Michael Caines has expressed his hope that the Black Lives Matter movement will provide "an opportunity to bring people together, not drive people apart" as he addressed his own conflicting emotions on Lympstone Manor's link to the slave trade.
The Michelin-starred chef said he felt it was "ironic" that he should have taken on Lympstone Manor in Devon, given its association with the Baring family, who extended the house in 1760 using money gained through the slave trade.
But he told The Caterer that his relationship with the property was a positive story of change and progress.
"I think it is ironic that Lympstone Manor and my life have come together," he said. "I think it's about reconciliation, and liberation. Who would have thought that I would end up owning a house owned by Charles Baring and the bank at the height of the slave trade; and that 260 years later, I, as a descendant of a slave, would preside over a house like this?"
Referring to the Black Lives Matter movement that has seen protests across the globe sparked by the death of George Floyd in the US, Caines said that "people just want to walk through a door and know they haven't already been judged".
He said that though he had experienced racism in his career, it hadn't held him back from achieving his goals.
Caines added: "I worked hard to get where I am and maybe I've had to work harder at times but no one that I have met along the way has held me down because of my colour. I've always reflected the negativity away from me and it's never stopped me from achieving my goals.
"I agree that racism is still around, I've experienced it, and people are still blinded by racism, but that's their problem not mine. I've achieved a great deal in my life with many obstacles and yet I'm still living my dream and trying to share a positive message."
Addressing the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Caines said that there had to be a time for reflection and reconciliation.
"With regards to the debate around the people who are celebrated, I don't think they should be publicly celebrated, even though people of all colour benefit from their institutions," he explained.
"We need to keep things balanced, understand our history and understand the pain and the loss. We should be reconciling the past with the progress we've made and recognising and celebrating that progress."
The chef suggested that the industry might work to better celebrate diversity and BAME talent, ensuring employees from all backgrounds have a fair chance of success.
He said: "At the end of the day people get to where they get on their own merits, but I'd like to think people from minority ethnic backgrounds don't have to work any harder than anyone else. We should all be given the same opportunities because of our talent. That is hard to police though. It's up to all of us – should every hotel chain have someone of colour on their board, for instance?
"My background, being brought up as an adopted child and being told that nothing would stop me was a real inspiration. And now as a public figure, who has an opinion, it's my responsibility to try and influence this conversation.
"Ultimately, people just want to walk through a door and know they haven't already been pre-judged because of the colour of their skin. We can all be part of this by knowing our history and acknowledging there's still more to be done. This is an opportunity to bring people together not drive people apart."
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