One of the most respected chefs in the UK, Michael Wignall has won Michelin stars in every kitchen he has headed since being awarded his first star in 1993. Michael is famed for his respect for food and an ever evolving style which creates unique dishes full of flavour, underpinned by a contemporary, less formal approach to fine cuisine. Describing his food as ‘modern, technical and meaningful’, each element features to add flavour or texture, enticing diners to experience new combinations and ingredients.
Growing up, Michael’s passion for food was shaped by a unique combination of wholesome home cooking and international travel. Taking in destinations that weren’t the usual tourist hotspots for the time, including Turkey, the Far East and Croatia, he was exposed to new and unusual ingredients, dishes and flavours from an early age. Despite this culinary backdrop, Michael did not always dream of becoming a chef and fell into catering as a path of life. A promising career as professional BMX rider beckoned but his parents persuaded him to try catering college. Three years on, he found himself in Spain, cooking and working front of house, an experience which established his great love of the country’s cuisine.
On returning to the UK in his early 20s, he embarked upon his professional career which would include the eponymous Longbridge restaurant in Lancashire, L’Ortolan, near Reading, Old Beams in Staffordshire in 1993 (where, as a young Head Chef, he earnt his first Michelin star) and Waldo’s Restaurant in Cliveden Hotel in Berkshire in 1996 where he retained their Michelin star and achieved four AA rosettes.
Following this was Michael’s Nook in the Lake District where he stayed as head chef for four years, retaining their four AA rosettes and Michelin star. Moving to The Burlington Restaurant at The Devonshire Arms in the Yorkshire Dales in 2002, he ran the kitchen here for five years, where only six months after joining, he again secured a Michelin star and four rosettes. 2007 saw a move to the Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park where he built the restaurant up from a two-rosette establishment; achieving its first Michelin star and four rosettes in 2009, five rosettes in 2011 (one of only eight restaurants in the UK to receive such an accolade) and its second Michelin star in 2012.
Classically trained, but with an inquisitive mind that is very much open to developments in modern cooking, his food is distinctively self-styled - highly technical and carefully crafted, with every detail refined and perfected. Recent travels to the Far East and Japan have become hugely influential in determining the direction of his menus; the clean flavours, pared back presentation and simple elegance encapsulated in this approach to cuisine now defining many of his dishes.
His attention to detail, utmost respect for quality produce and drive to ensure ingredients are kept true to their own flavours and identities characterises every dish. Each a masterpiece in its own right, most begin with a sketch, travel through the trial and error process and will only appear fully formed on the menu in their final iteration following exhaustive testing and trialling.
But the evolution does not stop there; daily experimentation and development happens behind the scenes, with inspiration drawn from all walks of life, Michael consistently strives to build upon and develop dishes – be it the technique, flavour combination, presentation – there is always scope for improvement. A close relationship with suppliers to inform the rearing or growing processes also allows him to directly influence the produce he works with, encouraging experimentation literally in the field to develop his dishes with exacting precision.
The final results are dishes made up of multiple ingredients, with multiple techniques – each offering huge amounts of flavour, but with everything placed on the plate for a reason, no individual flavour is allowed to dominate – elements shine individually, yet work together in seamless harmony. His innovative and imaginative combinations are sophisticated and unusual, allowing distinct textures, flavours and ingredients to both complement and enhance the other components.
Awarded two Michelin stars after just nine months at Gidleigh Park, Michael offers a memorable culinary journey, creating unique dishes full of flavour and underpinned by a contemporary, less formal approach to cuisine.