'I never wanted to make race an issue'

The  Staff Canteen

Following the death of George Floyd in the USA and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide, two Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines MBE has spoken about his experience of overcoming prejudice to become one of the country's most talented and treasured chefs. 

In an op-ed for The Telegraph, he explains that being black and an award-winning chef aren't two things which often overlap, and his journey testifies of that.

Being one of the only black chefs in the world to make it onto the most widely recognised lists, he explained that he "never wanted to make race an issue."

"But I’ve broken down barriers: the first black chef at a three-Michelin-star restaurant; the first to work for Joël Robuchon; the first to receive two Michelin stars."

Prejudice

The chef, who earned two Michelin stars for his work at Lympstone Manor, a property built by slave traders, speaks of being bullied and chastised at school, and how he and other black and ethnic minority people have "to work twice as hard and be twice as nice," in order to succeed.

Having been both lucky and determined enough to secure a spot working for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, he recalls his stage at once three Michelin-starred chef Bernard Loiseau's restaurant in France.

There, he said: "I was the first English guy to work in his three-Michelin-star kitchen, and the first black person. When he first saw me he said 'Who’s that guy?'. When he found out I was the chef, he said: 'but he’s black.'

It's not all about Michelin

Despite having been awarded the highly-coveted accolades himself, the chef is dubious that society should continue to view "top cooking being defined just by a French guide" - Michelin.

"There are loads of brilliant restaurants out there owned by minorities: Indian, Chinese, Caribbean, African, Lebanese. The point is, we don’t celebrate it. Of course, I’m proud I’ve achieved two stars, but there’s plenty of diversity to showcase in cooking," he added.

Calling for the creation of awards like the MOBOs, which were created to promote black music, then largely absent from mainstream honours, he believes that diversity in food needs to be celebrated.

The chef has hope that "pioneers, with the bravery to open restaurants that can become destination experiences" - naming James Cochran's Restaurant 1251 and Ikoyi, headed by chef Jeremy Chan can bring ethnic cuisines to a much wider audience.

A better, more diverse future

Despite his own setbacks, the chef believes that it rests upon each of us to end racism once and for all. 

He said: "Nothing should hold back young chefs from applying to restaurants; I can assure you most restaurants are – or were until Covid-19 – crying out for people to apply. Anybody can get there with hard work and determination, but let’s make sure nobody is judged by their skin colour before they walk through the door. 

"I was given up at six weeks, lost an arm in a car accident at 25, but I’m still here fighting for what I believe in. Anyone should be able to live their dream, irrespective of colour. I’m descended from slaves, but I now I run the Michelin-starred Lympstone Manor in Devon, which was built from the profits of slavery. If Lympstone can be liberated from its past, so can society."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd June 2020

'I never wanted to make race an issue'