Devon LivingIssue #01
We catch up with the inspiring chef, hotelier and philanthropist, Michael Caines MBE, to hear more about his plans for Lympstone Manor.
WORDS BY FELIX ROWE
Michael Caines is the ultimate success story, overcoming adversity to achieve greatness, including an MBE for his culinary and philanthropic endeavours. He’s fiercely passionate about the landscape he calls home and the great produce it offers. Having attained and retained two Michelin stars as head chef at Dartmoor’s Gidleigh Park for 18 years, he has since picked up his first Michelin star at his new venture Lympstone Manor, on the Exe estuary, within the first six months of opening. So, naturally, we were delighted to get the opportunity to catch up with Michael to discover more about the man behind the accolades.
“There’s no bigger ambassador for Devon than me! There’s so much beauty and a diverse landscape to explore… ” – Michael Caines
Michael fondly reminisces over childhood, one of six children growing up in Devon, enjoying trips to the beach and days out in the countryside. While his love for cooking would come later, he recalls a fulfilling childhood, one that instilled an appreciation of local produce and homecooked food.
As a young chef, he moved to London and certain figures emerged who would go on to influence him and greatly garner his respect. “Raymond Blanc was incredibly inspirational, as a young man,” explains Michael, “motivating me to work for the best, and ultimately to become the best. The Roux brothers, too – I would walk past Le Gavroche everyday, so it was great to go on to work with my heroes.
“They are all very different chefs, in terms of style and presentation, but they all put great ingredients and expert technique at the heart of what they do… respecting the produce and seasonality. Great ingredients and technique result in great flavour.”
So, how would Michael describe his style of cooking? “I’m classically trained, but not classical in approach… I don’t like to pigeonhole myself. I just try to cook great food in a modern European style. Composition is very important. It’s important to give people an interesting experience, both in presentation and flavour of the food, but also the setting itself.”
Michael’s latest undertaking, Lympstone Manor on the outskirts of Exmouth, is a case in point. “After 21 years at Gidleigh Park, I needed to do something new and forge my own future. If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to act on it. Someone once said to me: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. If you didn’t do it then, then do it now.’”
Putting the dream into action, Michael viewed countless places around Devon, to no avail, before stumbling upon Lympstone Manor. “I found the perfect place; it was very run down, a ramshackle home, but with loads of potential. The feeling and emotion of the place; there’s a connection with the landscape that caught me. It’s hard to portray without seeing it.”
Soon after his first viewing, he put in an offer – and the rest, as they say, is history. An ambitious project, Michael says boldly:
“Lympstone Manor is a true expression of what I wanted to do. It’s the realisation of a dream, my vision of country house hospitality for the 21st Century.”
Everything about Lympstone Manor exudes luxury and opulence. The elegant Georgian country house sits proudly within 28 acres of beautiful manicured grounds and parkland, offering stunning views. The boutique hotel has 21 individually styled bedrooms and suites, many with sumptuous and deep, rolltop baths. As a chef, Michael is a renowned perfectionist, selecting only the finest ingredients, then combining and presenting them with precision to create an experience for all the senses. These traits also apply the Michael the hotelier, with no expense spared to create the perfect ambiance for guests to enjoy, from the bespoke copper bar, well stocked with a carefully curated array of spirits, to the plush seating to sink into once drink is in hand. And then, of course, there’s the food itself.
With an evolving seasonal menu that gets the tastebuds salivating, Michael is understandably reluctant to name his favourite dish. “That’s like asking someone to choose between their children!” he laughs. His menu reads like a roll call of some of the South West’s finest ingredients, from Darts Farm beef to River Exe mussels.
Michael’s passion and determination are infectious – and show no signs of slowing down. Surely, anyone who has been awarded an MBE and multiple Michelin stars over his career has earned the right to kick back and put their feet up. But never one to rest on his laurels or dwell on former glories, Michael is nothing if not ambitious. “What happens next is what really matters to me.” Michael’s long-term plan is to plant a vineyard in the grounds and produce his own sparkling wine in the Champagne style.
As an amputee and an adopted child, Michael’s unique experiences have helped to shape his outlook on life, and he gets heavily involved in charitable and community enterprises. He set up the Michael Caines Academy in 2011 in association with his former alma mater, Exeter College, to nurture and inspire the next generation of chefs; he also participates in countless philanthropic activities with various charities.
He speaks passionately about his endeavours, though in a refreshingly modest and understated way. Simply put, he just feels fortunate to be in a position where he can share his experiences and make a difference. “You have a responsibility if you are successful to give something back to society and my profile as a chef allows me to do that,” he says. “Hopefully my story will inspire others to fulfil their dreams.”
Michael’s other great passion is Formula One motorsport, as highlighted by his active role in hospitality for the Williams racing team. “I’ve always loved the sport,” he says, drawing parallels between motorsport and life as a world-class chef. “It’s very glamorous and very precise, but requires great skill and drive too; performers at the top of their game, operating in a high-pressure environment.”
While deeply passionate about Lympstone Manor, Michael is equally magnanimous towards his peers across the South West – sure there’s competition, but there’s camaraderie too and the belief that supporting each other is good for all. We’re eager to discover where Devon’s most accomplished chef chooses to eat out. Michael recites a huge list of names – too many to mention – from The Salutation Inn in Topsham to The Masons Arms in Knowstone, and The Elephant in Torquay. The Dartmoor Inn, Lydford, he says, is a Sunday lunch favourite.
And Michael is equally passionate about the great outdoors. “I do a lot of running, on the beach. I love Dartmoor and Exmoor too – it’s contrasting, but equally beautiful.”
Indeed, despite having worked in some of the top restaurants in London and France, his eventual return to his home county was inevitable. “There’s no bigger ambassador for Devon than me! There’s so much beauty and a diverse landscape to explore… the tors, countryside, the beaches – they are all part of Devon’s rich tapestry. Couple this with the great produce and places to eat out, and there’s nowhere better. Where else in the UK will you find such a rich concentration of world-class producers right on your doorstep?”
Courtlands Lane, Exmouth EX8 3NZ
"There’s no bigger ambassador for Devon than me! There’s so much beauty and a diverse landscape to explore… " - Michael Caines