‘I was always going to be a chef’

HOME SWEET HOME Top chef Michael Moore in Portsmouth and, inset, at work in the kitchen.  Picture: Malcolm Wells (121504-5029)
HOME SWEET HOME Top chef Michael Moore in Portsmouth and, inset, at work in the kitchen. Picture: Malcolm Wells (121504-5029)
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Born in a caravan in Horndean, Michael Moore didn’t have an ordinary start to life. And he certainly hasn’t had an ordinary time ever since.

Growing up with a love for food, he would win school cooking competitions and made the logical step to train to be a chef.

Top chef Michael Moore at work in the kitchen.

Top chef Michael Moore at work in the kitchen.

He recalls: ‘I loved the daily challenge of a kitchen, the preparation and then the madness of a service.’

Now, nearly 30 years later, he’s one of Australia’s most famous chefs, running The Summit restaurant 47 floors up with 360-degree views of Sydney harbour.

He’s appeared on many TV shows, has published several cookery books incluing a new one called Blood Sugar, appeared in countless magazines and cooked for some of the biggest stars in the world, from Elton John and Sean Connery to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna and Dustin Hoffman.

Back in the Portsmouth area to visit his family, Michael says: ‘It’s been great to be back, but it’s hard to have a conversation where you don’t talk about the weather here!’

He came from humble beginnings, but will always be proud of the city. Yet his mum, Lesley, isn’t too happy to be reminded of how they once lived in a caravan.

Michael laughs: ‘She hates that, but it’s true. Then we moved to Leigh Park and Waterlooville and I spent most of my later childhood up there.’

He adds: ‘I was always going to be a chef. From about five or six years old I was interested in food and I had a natural ability, right from the get go.’

He went on to study for his diploma in professional cookery at Highbury College in Cosham and believes his time there helped mould him professionally.

Michael says: ‘I left to go to London three days after I qualified at Highbury. I’ve been to other catering colleges and I believe Highbury really is one of the best in the world. I was very lucky to go there.’

His life is on the other side of the world now, but he still returns to this area every couple of years to see his family – his mum and sister live on Hayling Island and his father lives in Horndean.

Michael says: ‘Portsmouth is a very different place to when I grew up here.

‘Whenever I’ve come back over the years there’s always been something new, something improving the place.

‘I’m certainly not ashamed of coming from Portsmouth. Somebody, somewhere in the council got the right idea of how to develop Portsmouth and now it’s a class city.’

He headed to London in the early 1980s and worked for some of the best restaurants.

Michael recalls: ‘I thrived on stress and achievement. Long hours, tough conditions and adversity – it was all part of the game and a large part of why I chose to go into this industry.

‘Going to work in the morning and putting on boots that were still soggy with sweat from the night before meant that I had worked hard.

‘It was all part of a quest to push myself to the limit.’

In 1986 Michael spent a year in Sydney on a working holiday, before travelling through Asia.

When he returned to the UK a year later, he got a job at The Ritz in London – and met his future wife, Angela.

Michael says: ‘I went to Australia for about a year.

‘I was young, I had grown up with no money and Australia is a very classless society. You stand on your merits.’

He adds: ‘I fell in love with Australia, so saved up and went back and lived there for maybe 10 years before I came back here again.’

At just 23 he was working at one of the best restaurants in Sydney and started making regular TV and radio appearances.

Michael went on to build a big name for himself.

Then he came back to London as the executive chef of The Bluebird Gastrodome in Chelsea, where he was in charge of 120 chefs.

But he missed Australia, and in 1998 he and his wife moved back. The following year he set up his first restaurant there.

Speaking about his achievements, Michael says: ‘I’d always known I had the drive and commitment and I worked really hard.

‘I was good at my job, but you never know where you’re going to.

‘It’s like flicking the pages of a book, turning one more page in my life.

‘My mother gave me great motivation.’

He bought two restaurants and made them into star attractions and went on to run a food consultancy.

Then in 2007 he bought The Summit restaurant.

As well as running this iconic eaterie, he has regularly cooked on Australian TV shows such as Mornings With Kerri-Anne, Sunrise, The Morning Show and the Today Show.

He’s also cooked for many very famous faces.

Michael says: ‘There are endless celebrities that have been part of my life since I was 18.

‘I remember before Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California and he was still acting, he came into my restaurant.

‘This massive guy came in and checked it out first. Then in walked Arnold with about four of five more guys, all big men in black jackets.

‘They sat at the main table and he didn’t want anything on the menu. He asked for a high-protein, no-carbs chicken salad.

He adds: ‘The waitress asked what everyone else would have, and they said ‘‘whatever he’s having’’.

‘It was quite funny, like something out of a movie.’

Michael’s quite used to dealing with celebrities – after all, he’s one himself.

But he believes that if you work hard, you can achieve anything.

He says: ‘It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do the right things.’

· Blood Sugar is published by New Holland Publishers, priced £24.99.

MICHAEL’S NEW BOOK

Michael has just written a book called Blood Sugar, full of recipes for people with diabetes and anybody who wants to eat healthily.

He’s had diabetes for more than a decade, but it was suffering a stroke while out for dinner with his family a couple of years ago that forced him to re-evaluate his diet and his hectic lifestyle.

After surviving this scare, he decided something had to change.

Michael says: ‘I was about 45 and I’d been diabetic for 10 or 12 years. Then the stroke came along and I was laid up in hospital thinking ‘‘well I tried to be a good diabetic by being disciplined’’.

‘I’d had this major life-changing event and I thought ‘‘there’s got to be a way’’. ‘

He has created a cookery book that aims to offer interesting food to people who have to be strict with their diet.

He explains: ‘Food should be a pleasure. If you’re on a strict diet and your food isn’t pleasurable, you won’t do it.

‘It’s about being healthy, helping other people get through the challenge and having some fun along the way.’