Introducing… Michael Wignall
PUBLISHED: 15:37 22 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:37 22 January 2016
He's the new executive head chef at Devon's top dining spot - Gidleigh Park -where he plans to bring a more modern twist to the food served there. SUSAN CLARK went to meet him
He’s been described as the ‘best chef you’ve never heard of’ but that is not true in cheffie circles where his name is revered and where, on hearing of his move to Gidleigh, one seasoned chef told me “he’ll get a third Michelin star there.”
And actually, you may have glimpsed Michael Wignall, on TV on the rare occasions he’s joined the BBC’s brilliant Masterchef and Masterchef Pro series as a respected chef judge.
In person, Michael is very likeable and not least because he can’t restrain his passion for cooking and working with his team (half of which is moving down to Devon with him) to develop innovative dishes that he describes as “complex, carefully crafted and very technical but not intimidating.”
He has a very intense, artistic approach to his food and work and admits if he sees a beautiful dish or some other piece of tableware that inspires him he will sit down and design a plate of food that works with that piece and when we say sit down, we mean sit down and sketch the elements of the dish that will end up on your plate.
Michael hails, originally from Preston but has been cooking for the last nine years at the two Michelin-starred The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, an Exclusive Hotel & Spa in Bagshot, Surrey where he has garnered awards, including Five AA Rosettes.
He moves to Devon with his new wife, Johanna, in the New Year – the coupled married in October and honeymooned in Japan - and opens for business at Gidleigh on 15 January when he launches not only his new menu but a newly modernised restaurant.
The day we meet, he has just been house hunting in the Chagford area and discovered that what looks like a simple 10 mile journey on a map is a very different experience when you are driving in or around Dartmoor (the drive to Gidleigh itself, which urges visitors to ‘keep heart’ right at the point where you feel like giving up and turning back, might have been something of a clue.)
But a new winding commute is, he says, a small price to pay for being on the doorstep of fantastic ingredients and as a keen cyclist, surfer and country sportsman in his spare time and he is relishing the idea of a move out of the South East commuter belt and to a more rural way of life.
Michael doesn’t tell you that at 47 he is absolutely at the top of his game but he doesn’t need to because everyone else will. He was perfectly happy cooking at The Latymer but when the call came (from Gidleigh owner Andrew Brownsworld) to help deliver a new style of dining at Gidleigh, Michael says he knew he was ready for the challenge and the opportunity to step out into more of the limelight.
And as he packs up his Surrey home and plans his big move to join us here in Devon Michael knows two things. One, following the 21-year tenure at Gidleigh of Michael Caines, he is stepping into very big shoes and two, not everyone wants, likes or welcomes change. But he is sticking to his guns…
“We are making changes which will usher in a new era for Gidleigh Park and I am very excited to be a big part of that,” he says.
“We will be keeping the Country House Hotel ambience that Gidleigh Park is known for but we will be making the experience of coming here more modern and less formal.”
Music to my ears.
Don’t miss the chance to discover Michael Wignall’s food at this exclusive event