Michael Caines: 'If I want to relax, a takeaway is an easy pleasure'


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My earliest food memory...Helping my father grow his fruit and vegetables [in the garden], and also afternoons spent baking with my mother. Food was a necessity more than anything in my family – we didn't have huge amounts of disposable income – but it was also about celebrating the routine of eating: sitting down together, and then at the end of the meal, doing the chores, sharing out the washing up and putting away the dishes. My favourite childhood dish was probably blackberry-and-apple crumble, with Bramley apples from the garden. It wasn't an easy thing to wash up, though, I have to say.

My store-cupboard essentials... Dijon mustard, white-wine vinegar, olive oil and vegetable oil, garlic, lemon and chopped tomatoes. On the more exotic side of things, I also always have Chinese five-spice mixture, a little bit of ginger, a couple of limes, and some sweet-chilli dipping sauce, as it makes a wicked, quick and easy stir-fry sauce.

My favourite cookbook... Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories, because it's very nostalgic: as well as the recipes themselves, it gives you the stories and memories behind them, which is what I'm really interested in. Also, Recipes from Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons by Raymond Blanc. I worked there early in my career, and Raymond has been a dear friend and wonderful mentor: because he wasn't classically trained, he didn't come to cooking with any baggage, and he taught me, like him, to have no boundaries when it comes to thinking about food.

My culinary tip... Seasoning is everything, and when I say that, I don't just mean salt and pepper: think about what you can do with vinegar, sugar, spices and herbs as well. But remember that it's easier to add ingredients and flavours than take them away, so season progressively.

My favourite food shop... Local to me in Devon, Pipers Farm has a great butcher's and there's also Dart Farm, where you can get lots of great regional produce. For cheese, I like Paxton & Whitfield, and in London, Whole Foods is pretty good. I also love markets: I've been to a few inspiring ones along the way, from the South-West to Nice to the spice markets in Istanbul.

My desert-island dish... I'd say roast chicken, but it might be a bit heavy, given the climate, so I'm going to have to go for a lovely fricassée of lobster with a selection of summer herbs and vegetables.

My guilty pleasure... A takeaway is a guilty and an easy pleasure; if I want to relax on a Sunday, which is my day off, I'll get a lovely Indian, Thai or Chinese.

My favourite comfort food... As far as savoury dishes go, it has to be shepherd's pie. The key to a great shepherd's pie is to have a good amount of vegetables to meat, a lovely fluffy mashed-potato top, and to season it with some Lea & Perrins [Worcestershire sauce]. I also like to add a little bit of cinnamon and cumin to mine to give it a little spice.

My pet hates... I hate cheap smoked salmon – the texture is the most vile thing you can eat. And I get really annoyed by people who are hyper-critical and take food too seriously. Some people in the world are starving, then there are people being precious because their steak isn't cooked to perfection.

My tipple of choice... It depends on the time of day, but a glass of champagne is fantastic – I particularly like Blanc de Blancs champagnes – or an aged rum and Coke.

Michael Caines is the award-winning head chef at the two-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park in Devon. He is collaborating with new Fairy Platinum on the two-day 'Clean Your Own' pop-up restaurant in London's Oxo Tower from 18-19 November. To win a place, visit facebook.com/fairydish