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Michael Caines – the owner of the Michael Caines Collective including The Cove in Cornwall is a celebrity chef and entrepreneur, and chats to us about sustainability in hospitality
by Aimee Rigby/31st-May-2020
Okay, great. So today we have a bit of a special guest on Zero Waste Kode. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Yes. Hi, I’m Michael Caines, chef patron or chef owner of The Cove in Maenporth, The Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven, and then Lympstone Manor in Devon, and also Mickey’s beach restaurant and bar Exmouth.
Fantastic. Yes. So, would you like to tell us a bit about your background and the journey you’ve been on to become the coveted chef that you are today?
Yes, well, I started out when I was at home cooking with my mother and enjoyed that and never thought of it as a career, but decided to go into catering at Exeter college, where I trained to be a chef. I left Exeter college to go to London. I spent a year and a half at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, worked in a banqueting section of the operation for about six months before starting work in the Michelin starred restaurant. And then from there, I moved to Oxfordshire to work with Raymond Blanc at the coveted two Michelin star hotel and restaurants, which is Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons; spent three amazing years there and then decided to go to France, where I spent two and a half years working for two Michelin starred chefs, both of them holding three star Michelin. One with the Bernard Loiseau at Hotel la Cote d’or, now known known as Le Relais Bernard Loiseau. And also I’ve worked in Paris for Joél Robuchon, three star as well. So, then I came back to the UK at the age of 25, took on the head chef role at Gidleigh Park in Devon, where I spent 21 and a half years. Gained, retained the star and then four years later gained two stars which I held for 18 years. And then after this amazing time there, I decided to buy a country house, Courtlands mansion, and turned it into the Lympstone Manor hotel and restaurants which now has a Michelin star. And also, during my time working at Gidleigh Park, I also was the chef. I started my restaurant career, if you like, by operating the Royal Clarence, and then I was working for both hotels as the director of food and beverage prior to getting my own place here at Lympstone Manor. So, lots of experience and lots of wonderful differentiating experiences that have taken me in the kitchen, but also into business. And now obviously running businesses as an entrepreneur, as a chef.
Yeah, amazing loads of experience there. So, in 2019, you called for chefs to start sourcing their fish sustainably. For any chefs listening, would you be able to tell us why and how they should be sourcing sustainable fish?
Yes, well sustainable fishing is an important reality that needs to be governed, not by the choices you make, when you go to a restaurant, but also the choices we make as a chef. And also working with our supply chain to make sure that the boats that are fishing are using sustainable nets, so that they’re allowing the small catch to go through the netting rather than being trapped up and caught up with the wall of the fish when landed and then returned to the sea often dead. It’s also to do with the fact that we’re buying fish in season. And acknowledging the fact that fish have cycles, just like any other animal, so there are no fishing zones and no fishing periods for certain species to allow them to replenish. And it’s also knowing equally, that if you continue to fish, the most popular seafood species, that clearly, we’re going to put pressure on that species. So, it’s also about introducing lesser-known fish, so that you can use as a replacement for the well-known fish. An example might be, you know, instead of using Cod, perhaps use Pollock instead, which is equally delicious, very, very similar, but not many people use it, everybody seems to just ask the Cod for instance. So that’s one example.
The other example might be sea bass, now it’s seasonal, and also ensuring that when you buy your fish, the fish if it’s tagged with things like salmon, so it’s understanding and ensuring that we purchase fish in a sustainable way, using the knowledge that’s there and readily available now and working with your supply chain to ensure that the fish side is correct. And that also that you work with the rhythms of the seasons and the fish will be cheaper when they’re when they’re in season anyway, so some very simple steps. And of course, by buying off the local markets, you’re also sustaining the population in terms of the fishing fleets ensuring that they have a route to market.
Inset Michael Caines
Absolutely. So yeah, I mean, as a famous chef, especially in the UK, do you feel any responsibility to influence other chefs in the UK to run their businesses sustainably?
Yeah, when you become an iconic chef, as such, somebody that people look up to you, you’ve got to take responsibility and your actions, you’ve got to lead by example. And you’ve got to practice what you preach. And I think it’s important that the young chefs come through, recognise the importance of the sustainable message that we have within the biodiversity and all these various elements and the importance it is to recycle, reduce plastic, and all these various subject matters, which, which makes for a very challenging environment. But ultimately, the young people are much more aware of these causes. And so, actually, they’re looking to us to, the likes of the leaders of the industry now, to make the changes now, so that it doesn’t create more problems for them to deal with in the future.
Fantastic. Yes. So, obviously, you have quite a few restaurants and hospitality businesses, that you can’t be, you know, in all of these places all at once. So, how do you make sure that the Michael Caines collection of restaurants are being run in this environmentally friendly way that you expect them to be?
Okay, well, that’s always a challenge with your staff, to make sure that they buy into the principles and also the values that govern the stewardship of your business. So, we make sure we educate our staff, but also that we work with our suppliers to ensure that we can work collectively across the group to reduce some and make an impact in some of those areas where we feel it’s possible. It’s also about making sure that we buy in a sensible way. So, we set up policies that allow our staff to not have to worry about the sustainability of the product, we work with our suppliers to ensure that we are buying sustainably so that, for instance, we don’t have any plastic straws, we only use paper straws.
We use biodegradable products where possible. We also recycle our waste by segregating it out and working with our suppliers to ensure that that waste is collected and sent appropriately to the right places. So, we do as much as we can and we educate and ensure that sustainable measures is embedded and embodied within our within our day to day psyche, but also, we try and make sure that we then practice what we preach. So, we buy from local suppliers and we name them on our menu, or we will provide a link to our website where they can then find out about our supply chain. And we make sure that people understand that what we offer, the product to our customer, is actually making a difference. So, if you buy locally, you’re reducing food miles.
So therefore, you know that in itself makes it a lot more sustainable. And if you’re buying in the season, again, that makes things a lot more sustainable, because you’re not bringing things over and importing them in, you’re working with products that’s in season. And so actually, some of the things are better, if you like, the product of the customer, because they’re getting things fresher, they’re getting things in a more direct way. They’re also supporting the important economy locally, which in many instances, the first rule of sustainability is economic sustainability. And then beyond that, you can make very, very good decisions about how you can make an impact on the environment through working with your supply chains and your staff to ensure that we’re doing our bit.
Above images; Various cuisine from the Cove and Harbourside
So, keeping the conversation on waste. How do you try and keep food waste minimal across your restaurants?
Well, that’s a challenge, because food waste is, is obviously a by-product of preparation. But you know, every single gramme of waste that you put in the bin is money, being put effectively in the bin, so we cost our menus very carefully, and we make sure that we reduce the minimum amount of waste that we can, in terms of the preparation side of things.
We’re very, very aware- we use clear, clear bags so you can see how much waste there is. We have to segregate our food waste so we can see how much that is. And then we can weigh that when we pick up- some of our suppliers allow us to weigh the food waste so we get an impression of how much waste we’re having in tonnage, if you like, or kilogrammes, but more importantly, you know, it’s about making sure that your restaurants busy and busy restaurants produce less waste, because they’re not worried about things going out of date, it’s about buying sensibly, the right amount, it’s about ensuring that you use the technology on the tools to give you some sort of ability to forecast what you buy. And it’s using programmes, like cost programmes, that can also work out if you’re going to sell, you know, 20 covers, they can actually tell you what to order. So, you’re not wasting food by ordering too much, and then going out a date.
And then also, portions control is important too, you know, I mean, there is this idea in people’s head, that just because of a massive plate of food, they’re getting value. That’s not, really the way it is, what people need to understand is that, you know, having a well-proportioned meal, is eating over several courses, it’s not just one plate of food. So, you know, waste that the customer gives is also something that you need to control by proper portion control. If you’re talking about waste collection, in particular, there are some challenges there with the local authority, in terms of the fact that, you know, there’s a monopoly. If you like, with one or two contractors, there aren’t many choices. So, you know, if you want to recycle things, the recycle centres are in Gloucester, North of there. So, you know, waste gets taken a long way out of the county. And we need to do more to lobby the local council to start thinking about recycling centres in Cornwall, so that we can deal our waste more sustainably. So, I think there’s also moving away from landfill as well. So, you know, to do that, you have to work with the suppliers. So, people like Biffa, they’re not very easy to work with when it comes to segregating waste, and making sure that you get kind of feeling that the waste that you’ve segregated is going to the right places. So, you know, you can’t just put your food waste on a farm, you know, we need to think about the impacts that we have with regards to that. And you know, there aren’t many places where we can, within the region of the Southwest, where we can actually send our waste to be recycled or to be turned into biomass or whatever. So, there’s a few challenges, I think.
Fantastic. Yes. Do you have any sustainability goals for the future? Is there anything that the pandemic has instilled, an idea of maybe anything you want to change or improve on?
Yeah, well, economic sustainability is the first lesson you learn from this crisis. All of those wonderful objectives and plans, without a sustainable business, financially, is the first rule that you learn from this crisis. The second rule that you realise is that people really do miss the simple things in life, the privileges and the freedoms that we had, but also they realise how fragile the world is. And this pandemic has exposed that nature, ultimately, it’s something that we can’t always control. So therefore, you know, we’ve seen the effects of the lack of less travel, less pollution. And we see also the beauty of the countryside because people have had to holiday closer to home. And I think people have appreciated more and more the landscape that they live in. And if you can reconnect with that landscape, perhaps you’ll start taking responsible decisions about how you’re going to live and interact within that landscape. But for us here, these are things that we embody ourselves around, these are things that we always say, are part of our psyche, if you like. So, we’re just important for us just to continue to develop, where we can, stronger links, to ensure with our supply chain, that our customer comes to us and has a guilt free experience, you know, people will travel to get to us. So, we need to make sure we offset as best we can, that when they’re here, by having an impact on the environment in a positive way, not a negative way. So, you know, can we make decisions about power source? Can we move away from fossil fuels and go more towards electric? You know, there are lots of things that you can look at. And actually, what you’ll find is as you start to look at the things, over the long term, being more sustainable and having a more sustainable approach actually has a net benefit in terms of cash to your business. And so actually, there’s incentive there. I think that’s really important. If you incentivize businesses to become green, by showing them how you reduce energy consumption, and actually make a positive impact to the environment; to a lot of people, it’s a no brainer, really, in many regards. Why wouldn’t you?
Absolutely, yes. So finally, where can our listeners find out more about you or visit any of your restaurants?
So, the best way to find out about us is to go to www.Michaelcaines.com where we have the Michael Caine’s collection. But if not, if you’re in Cornwall you can visit us at The Cove at Maenporth, or at the Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven- we will be open for business from the 17th of May, and slightly before that in The Cove, but 17th of May, we’ll definitely be open for all of our capacity. And two weeks before that, we’ll have The Code for its outdoor spaces, it’s got a glass house that we can use as well. So, there’s lots of opportunities for people to dine out all year round, I know that it’s going to be a very, very busy season. We know that already for Cornwall and Devon. And I think that’s going to mean to say that we’re going to be, you know, all the more excited about welcoming people back to the region, but hopefully also pushing that sustainable, massive message to take the rubbish away from our beach sides of the beach coastline; to take the rubbish home from the beautiful places there are around the coastline, but also inland, you know, and people need to take responsibilities. We can do our bit, but everybody can do their bit, when they visit us as well.
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.
Thank you for having me.