Two months after assuming that position, the overworked chef fell asleep at the wheel of his car, crashed, and lost his right arm. The glorious ascent was suddenly, he feared, at an end. And yet, just two weeks later, Caines was back at work. Rather than the accident finishing his career, the career helped him to cope.
“It gave me the motivation not to give up,” he says. “The passion was always there, but to overcome the challenge was an important thing for me.”
Twenty years on and Caines is a star attraction at this year’s Gourmet Abu Dhabi festival, which begins tomorrow. His list of accolades during the intervening decades is impressive: an MBE, several Chef of the Year awards and two coveted Michelin stars for Gidleigh Park. “Each one of them is a stepping stone,” he says.
It was perhaps only by chance that Caines – who initially rose to prominence as a protégé of the great French chef Raymond Blanc – actually became a chef. An adopted child, he was placed in a happy household where the hub was the kitchen.
Does he ever wonder how differently things might have turned out?
“Every day,” he admits. “Having been given up at birth [it] wasn’t the best start in life, but the loving family I was adopted into was a blessing – it was a big influence and fantastic starting point for getting into cooking. In the early days it was just a hobby but when I realised I could make it a career, that’s when things got interesting.”
That enthusiasm for life and work is certainly inspiring and Caines is acutely aware of his role-model status, serving as a patron for adoption and disability charities. The kitchen often plays an important role there, too.
“Cooking can definitely give people a positive focus,” he says. “It’s an important life skill to have, but is also excellent for teambuilding and home cooking is hugely enjoyable – if you have the time. You learn to value the process more if you can understand what goes into it.”
The chef’s culinary style is “modern European influenced by Asian spices and world cuisines”.
“Every dish I create has its own signature,” he explains.
Those influences are apparent in the special menu he has produced for Brasserie Angélique from Wednesday to Saturday. “Two of the dishes featured on my menu, lobster salad and banana parfait, are both relatively new,” he says. “I’m always looking for new ideas.”
Caines – who will also be demonstrating his culinary talents at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa on Saturday – is “looking forward to developing my knowledge” of Emirati specialities during this trip. His visits to the region usually focus on the Grand Prix, due to his regular catering work for the Williams Formula One team. Indeed, the well-travelled chef has cooked in Britain’s most important kitchen: the prime minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street. That must be slightly intimidating?
“Whenever you are asked to do things like that, there are nerves,” he admits, “but I think that shows respect for the challenge ahead.”
Are there any secrets he can share about the Downing Street amenities?
“The kitchen facilities at No 10 were a little cramped,” he says. “And I will never forget how quick the service was. No sooner did the starters go out than they were calling for the mains.”
For more information on Michael Caines’s Gourmet Abu Dhabi participation, visit www.gourmetabudhabi.ae