INTERVIEW AND IMAGES: DOUGLAS BLYDE
Chef Michael Caines MBE is best known for his work as head chef of two Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park Hotel in Dartmoor. Here he talks about his passion for F1 and cooking for the AT&T Williams team…
My sister married an F1-obsessed Frenchman. Exhausted from work, he would doze on the sofa while I watched Williams drivers lap all the others. They are still the fourth most successful team of all time, purely about racing and behind numerous innovations in the sport. Their stable of talent has included Jacques Villeneuve, Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. After some difficult seasons, you can see that the drive to get back to first position is still in their DNA.
From sitting on the couch watching it, I have now become a cog in the Grand Prix circus. Like an army, the team at AT&T Williams marches on their stomachs. Five years ago, hospitality in the motorhome – an immense temporary structure – meant buffets, but we have now moved to individual service.
Toto Wolff, AT&T Williams’ non-executive director told me: ‘We may not be performing on the track, but our food’s the best in the paddock.’
The race is short compared to the build-up. In total, six lorries bring 33 tonnes of equipment to each European race. Sir Frank Williams is keen to promote the Englishness of his team, and the inventory includes HP Sauce, Marmite and strong tea. He has also developed relationships with local artisans such as ice cream-maker Giancarlo Faletti in Monza. He has exclusively supplied Williams with silken pistachio ice cream and Sicilian cassata since 1966.
A lot of people at AT&T Williams will tell you that the team feels like a large family, which is why I like it. I grew up in a large family, and remember the simple family meals we always shared, prepared by my mother using the fruit and vegetables my father grew in our garden.
I trained with Raymond Blanc, who was my mentor, then Joël Robuchon and the late Bernard Loiseau in France. I returned to Britain in 1994 to become head chef at Gidleigh Park, Dartmoor. But just two months on, I suffered a major car crash in which I lost my right arm. I remember seeing my hand on the road in the mirror as I came to and feeling the blood leaving my body. After that, I wanted an all-singing, all-dancing prosthetic replacement, but eventually I learnt to work with what I’ve got.
Creativity comes from boredom and ego but I also believe my ability to cook is a gift from God. Within two weeks of the accident, I was back in the kitchen part-time and full-time within four. We won our second Michelin star five years later.
A meal for two at Gidleigh Park costs around £270 with wine and service. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH, 01647 432367, gidleigh.com.