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Chef Interview: Michael Caines, Lympstone Manor, Exmouth, UK

Celebrating the Local and the Sustainable
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The Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink took place in Devon, England from the 5th-7th May. We went to check it out and caught up with one of the festival’s founders, Michelin Starred Chef Michael Caines MBE.

What was your inspiration to start the Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink?
English gastronomy is often overlooked but the country has a lot to offer. I was born in Exeter and grew up with a wealth of produce on the doorstep and felt that we needed to celebrate what we have here – the south west has a lot to talk about.

The idea behind the festival was to celebrate the heritage of farming, the food producers and the chefs and to bring them all together in one place. It was designed to inform and educate both the locals and those from further afield and to create an opportunity for producers and consumers to engage with one another.

Not only does the festival create the opportunity for the community to connect with small artisan producers but it also serves to inform, educate and capture the imagination of all generations.

Does it generate a lot of money?
We make over £222,000 a year through sponsorship and entry fees, however the festival is a not-for-profit event. The Directors work for free and the money is invested back into the festival the following year.

The first festival took place back in 2003 – have you achieved what you set out to do?
The fact that the festival is now in its 15th year is testament to this.

We have always championed local, sustainable produce and recyclable products – long before these became hot topics – and the recent upsurge in farmers markets acknowledges that people no longer want just one faceless supermarket or dominant supplier. There’s a real desire to ‘eat local’ and know the provenance of ingredients.

Not only does the festival create the opportunity for the community to connect with small artisan producers but it also serves to inform, educate and capture the imagination of all generations. It’s so important to get future generations involved – that’s why there are so many children’s activities on offer. We want to make the weekend about every member of the community – young and old – that’s how the festival maintains its relevance.

How does the Exeter Beats Music Festival fit in?
For the past 10 years or so music has been part of the festival, with the daytime events giving way to ‘After Dark’ live music evenings. This year we gave things a shake-up: the exhibitors’ stalls moved into Northernhay Gardens and the Castle courtyard area now hosts the live music stage, bars and street food stalls, creating a real festival atmosphere.

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Now a bit more about you…

What made you want to become a chef?
When I was young I used to enjoy cooking and baking with my mother. I also enjoyed helping my father in the garden, growing vegetables. Back then there were no ‘celebrity’ chefs in the way that there are today but I knew cooking brought me pleasure.

What is your earliest food memory?
Helping my mother in the kitchen – then enjoying a meal together as a family, sitting around the table while my father told stories about being a fighter pilot.

How would you describe your style of cooking?
I was classically trained but I would describe my cooking as having a modern European style. I keep up with the times but I don’t bow-down to the latest trends and gimmicks. For me, it’s all about extracting the great natural flavours of the ingredients while being open-minded – cooking should be about flavour, not fashion.

What is your signature dish?
It’s hard to say. I like to be creative and keep things evolving throughout the seasons – I wouldn’t want to be defined by one dish and always have to keep it on the menu regardless of the time of year.

What are 3 of your favourite ingredients to work with?
There are so many! At this time of year I would say asparagus, lamb and summer seafood – including local crab, lobster and scallops.

What would be your ‘Desert Island’ meal?
I like my home comforts, so roast chicken or beef, followed by an apple crumble.

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