Interviewing Michael Caines is a journalist's dream. During the two-and-a-half hours we spend together, in the cocktail bar at the Bristol Marriott Royal, he barely draws breath. He answers all my carefully pre-worded questions at length; in fact he puts them to himself in the first place.
But this is no ramble. Caines is articulate and focused as he talks about his new project, his hopes, fears and motivations, the car accident nine years ago where he lost his arm, the death of his good friend, chef Bernard Loiseau, and being a father for the first time - his fianc‚e, Ruth, gave birth to a son, Joseph, the following day.
Mostly, though, he tells me why he's at the Marriott in the first place, and about the restaurant and the vintage Champagne bar he's opening there under the Michael Caines name in July. He's excited, but nervous. It's a new direction for him, one that could usher in a new era of Michael Caines the restaurateur and he needs to get it right.
But why now? And why the Marriott? The restaurant, currently called the Palm Court and open only for dinner, is certainly beautiful, being a Georgian covered courtyard in pale stone overlooked by balconies and statues. Next door is the bar, which will be a Michael Caines Mo‰t & Chandon-sponsored vintage Champagne bar, one of only six in the country. For Caines, the hotel fits in well with his concept.
"The restaurant is in a superb location - prime real estate that doesn't need much doing to it," he says. "OK, it's not trendy but it's the Marriott and that means high standards and specifications. But this is not just about remuneration. It's about building relationships for the long term and thinking about sustainability. I think it's healthy for me to be associated with such a brand."
Caines has been looking for an opportunity like this for a while, a chance to get his name out there, to build an income base with which to travel and eat out more and to put into his own venture one day, to make the move from "player" to "manager". He'll always cook, but this is about "ownership" of himself.
"I've got a lot to be pleased about, and yet sometimes I'm still a miserable bastard. I do worry about securing my future, having sustainability, becoming a father, feeling I'm as good as the rest but not getting the credit for it because of my location," he says.
Location may no longer be a problem. Should this be successful, there are already four to five other sites being considered, which - while Marriott's food and beverage man, Bertrand Dijoux, won't name names - could be in major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and London.
As Caines says: "There are other ways of getting your name out there other than going on TV or becoming a clown. If all of a sudden everyone in a Marriott hotel gets introduced to Michael Caines, that's got to be worth at least going on Ready Steady Cook for one afternoon - and without the embarrassment.
"Food is my industry, my tool, and I will never abandon it. But this is a chance to do what others are doing elsewhere - people like Terry Laybourne, Paul Heathcote, Gordon Ramsay. There's no one in the South-west who is prepared to work for those opportunities."
If anyone deserves an opportunity in the South-west, it's Caines. He has done well since he gained a Michelin star at the age of 25 at Gidleigh Park - and two stars four years later - in spite of the loss of his right arm in a car accident.
He opened his second restaurant at the Royal Clarence hotel in Exeter in 1999, a deal which, if successful, was expected to lead to Caines taking over the food and beverage operations in other Regal properties. It hasn't happened, and Regal has now put the Clarence up for sale. Caines put in an offer, but it was rejected.
Then Caines, as guest speaker at Caterer's Acorn Award ceremony last year, sat next to Marriott's chief executive officer, Alan Walker. Walker told Caines the group would be interested in working with him and suggested a meeting with Dijoux.
The deal between Caines and the Marriott is simple but shrewd. Caines installs the Michael Caines concept in the present Palm Court restaurant and cocktail bar but pays no rent. Along with his own business plan and projections, he labels and brands both venues, bringing in his own style of cuisine and service. He recruits key personnel - namely Shane Goodway as head chef - but all staff are ultimately employed by the hotel. He then receives a share of the profits and remuneration for setting the restaurant up without the worries of doubling up on resources, overheads and risk.
It's a unique deal that involves the hotel as much as himself in coming up with a winning result, something he has felt has been a problem with the Clarence. "Being in the renting scenario means an "us and them" culture is created where, no matter how hard you try, you've got two teams. It requires a certain degree of co-operation to make the concept work. There's often no incentive for the hotel really to sell the restaurant," he says.
"The fact is, at the Clarence the people who originally did the deal are no longer there, and the concept has been neglected and lost. This is less financial risk and a lot of shared responsibility."
If Caines is successful, the Marriott won't fare badly either. The Palm Court restaurant is currently not, as Dijoux delicately puts it, "making as much money as it should be". Getting in Caines, a big-name chef, into Bristol - a city not only on the up economically but which recently lost its only Michelin-starred restaurant, Harvey's - is creating some excitement among the group.
"This is an opportunity to show the industry that we as a hotel group are interested in cooking well," Dijoux says. "It's a fantastic deal. The risk for Michael Caines is limited in terms of cash capital and we are retaining ownership of the business. In the unlikely event of the deal failing, no one will suffer."
Caines has ambitious plans. Final projections for annual sales are £1m (£500,000 in the first year) although Caines's own figures are more optimistically around £1.5m. Caines and Goodway are aiming for one Michelin star and at least three rosettes within a year of opening, although Caines won't be cooking there.
So can this work? As Caines flicks through his jumbo file of spreadsheets, graphs and accountancy figures, it's clear he's leaving little to chance. He may be a good chef but he has made sure he understands the workings of business too.
"We've got a viable project - there's no reason why not. This is a Michael Caines concept within a Marriott hotel and owned by Whitbread. It's complicated, but it's based on sound business concepts that I've spent years learning," he says.
"I love food but if I can't understand the business side it's not viable. Look what happened with Le Petit Blanc. Jean-Christophe Novelli - where is he now? There are a lot of sharks out there, people who will bleed your business dry. Five good chefs have gone bust recently. I don't want to join them."
In the middle of meetings, checking blueprints, working on menus with Goodway, Caines is still cooking at Gidleigh Park, the place where his career started in earnest and where he feels most at home. His life can only get busier but he is confident that he won't lose perspective. The death of former colleague and friend, Bernard Loiseau, who committed suicide recently, has had a grounding effect.
"It's not hard for me to keep my perspective because I nearly lost my life and I lost a good friend. I don't want to lose track of where I came from and that's why I enjoy going back into the kitchen. Every one of the 4,000 people who turned up for Bernard Loiseau's funeral thought he was an amazing chef. So how can an amazing chef who is so successful and can inspire so many people lose perspective? Because we are victims of our egos."
The celebrity-chef partnership between Michael Caines and the Marriott might be the first of its kind in the UK, but not in the USA. The hotel group now boasts a total of eight name chefs under its portfolio:
Although much of the hype regarding the restaurant will revolve around Michael Caines, it will be Shane Goodway, a Caines prot‚g‚, who will be manning the stoves and heading up the 11-strong brigade.
Goodway has an excellent pedigree. His CV cites some of the most famous restaurants in Europe and in many ways mimics Caines's career - they were both classically trained and spent much of their formative years in France.
Among the influential characters in Caines's life were Jo‰l Robuchon, Raymond Blanc and the late Bernard Loiseau, while Goodway's mentors include French masterchefs Michel Roux, Christophe Cussac, Christian Plumail and Alain Passard.
The result is a phenomenal culinary partnership, reflected in the restaurant's menu. "Michael has a vast repertoire," Goodway says, "but I need to be developing my own style of cooking, which I started to do in my last position as head chef at the Box Tree [in Ilkley, Yorkshire]."
His style is rooted in the classics that he and Caines were taught "but modern, lighter and not as labour-intensive as the way we were trained". The menu will include Caines signature dishes, but most will come from Goodway's own repertoire.
"Cooking-wise I've moved on a lot since Gidleigh Park. I've got lots of ideas and I've got the influences of lots of different disciplines," Goodway says. "Michael will teach me what the business is about, the restaurant and the development of the hotel. I don't think he's shadowing me, I think of him as more of a guardian."
Goodway and Caines make no bones about their desire to secure accolades - including a Michelin star - for the new venture. "The prestige would be good for the group," Caines says. "Three or four rosettes is what Shane wants and what Marriott wants. We want it to be the best restaurant in the group and it has to be individual. It's no good just doing the same food I do. Shane has his own dishes and aspirations. I don't want to restrict his creative spirit."
Michael Caines at the bristol Marriott Royal
Head chef: Shane Goodway
Operations manager: John Crompton
Projected annual turnover: £1m
Opening: Seven days a week (lunch and dinner)
Projected covers: 40-60 a night
Average spend: between £45 and £50 a head