J ohn Campbell is a fascinating and complex man. He is a chef at the pinnacle of his career and the brains behind the enduring, indeed flourishing, success of The Vineyard at Stockcross, his two Michelin-starred restaurant near Newbury.

He held me spellbound as we chatted about his life, his food, his ethos. He had slotted me into his frantically busy day, just after breakfast service one Saturday morning, but he seemed in no rush and at no point hurried me along, gave me frank answers, and was so fascinating, pleasant and downright nice that he seemed the antithesis of the aggressive, impatient prima donna chefs that we see on TV.

Indeed, this was one negative image that John was quick to dispel.

“There is no need for shouting and screaming,” he said firmly. “My staff are trained and confident, they know what they are doing. If I had to shout it would be down to poor planning on my part.”

He was equally self-effacing when I told him I counted the Vineyard dinner I’d enjoyed the previous evening as my best meal, ever. A landmark for me, but obviously it is something that John hears quite regularly.

He has a genius for combining complex elements into dishes that look exquisitely beautiful and taste divine. Every individual texture and flavour shines through.

The scientific and technical wizardry behind what we see on our plates is John’s passion. For example, he spoke of the process behind achieving the perfect consistency and flavour of the hazelnut yoghurt that goes with his pan-fried foie gras on the tasting menu.

After a good deal of trial and error John discovered that, because of the molecular make-up of yogurt, it must always be stirred in one direction to achieve the perfect result.

The restaurant’s fabulous array of different varieties of bread come from a ‘fermental starter’ which is 18 years-old and must be fed once a day with flour and water. It went through a wobbly period four years ago, said John: “It was clinging onto life, obviously the chef who was supposed to be doing the ‘feeding’ hadn’t been doing it properly. I had to administer CPR and bring it back to life!”

Staff training is central to John’s regime and, indeed, to the whole guest experience at The Vineyard, a luxurious award-winning spa hotel with 50 rooms and discerning customers who return again and again to savour something that is slick, though never over-the-top or insincere.

Liverpudlian John, who has a degree in International Culinary Arts, oversees the entire operation at The Vineyard, where he is director of food and beverages. From chef to kitchen porter, receptionist to chambermaid, all come under his close scrutiny.

He is a perfectionist who believes that his staff are his biggest asset — and that training is at the root of a happy team.

He is held in the highest respect by his peers, who have dubbed him ‘the cerebral chef’. His credentials are impeccable and he lectures on, writes about, lives and breathes gastronomy. He is also seen regularly on television — in fact, before our interview as I sat eating breakfast in front of the TV in my room, John was among the judges in a repeat of BBC’s Celebrity Masterchef.

He has also been involved earlier this year in Masterchef — featuring amateur cooks — and joined other celebrated chefs in judging the contestants’ culinary creations. The Vineyard’s kitchens were the venue for some of the recording.

While creativity is something John applauds, he also has a sound commercial head on his shoulders. The diverse operation at The Vineyard, where he oversees all matters ‘food’ for 50 rooms, 150 covers in the restaurant, the spa, private dining, conferences and, in the summer, a large terrace, gives him plenty of scope, and it is a huge responsibility.

“In this competitive world you have to be ahead of the game in all aspects,” he explained. “The idea is that food goes from gate [the farmyard] to plate easily and efficiently. It is the Macdonalds’ way of thinking, but in a two Michelin-star environment.

“You have to be commercial, but at the same time you want people to be so impressed that they come back. I want to grow our business year-on-year, and consistency is all-important.”

He believes that the principles of minimalist ‘nouvelle cusine’, first seen at the tail end of the 1950s, hold good today.

“No-one wants too much food, so it was lightened and the portions made smaller. Look at me”, he said tapping a trim stomach. “I eat all day, but I don’t gain weight— it is all about flavour, flavour fills you up. You must eat well, eat what what you like, but eat in moderation.”

He says the tasting menu is a wonderful way to enjoy small portions of a variety of his dishes in a carefully constructed journey of tastes and sensations. However, some people do still prefer the usual three courses and won’t be persuaded otherwise.

Eating in John’s restaurant has something of a theatrical quality, and is as much about the experience as about the food — the service at all levels is impeccable. But, I was fascinated to hear, the level and intensity of service is gauged to the customer.

“When guests come through the door we give them a number rating between one and ten,” he explained. “The ones and twos are the VIPs, the people who quite obviously dine out in fine restaurants all the time and enjoy the whole experience.

“Then there are couples who are having a romantic meal and only have eyes for each other, so we take that on board and we would probably give them a five or a six. Then you have guests who seem less comfortable, so we go really low key, and they are probably a nine.”

John’s desire to cook took root at a young age. He started making meals with his mum and gran from the age of four.

“My son Oliver, who is nine, is the same. From the age of seven he has been able to prepare and cook a complete meal,” he said.

“My daughter Sophie, who is six, also cooks with me — they are really into it, because TV has made it so trendy.”

John develops some of his recipes at home — he lives quite close to The Vineyard — where he is currently having a new kitchen installed.

“I work things out while I am cooking - I am going to have a big blackboard to write my ideas on,” he said.

Days off for John are precious, and he likes to spend them with his family.

He said: “When I do get a few days off I’ll take the kids out to the farm to pick fruit, then we will make jam and compotes, or we will go the river and they will help to catch crayfish and pick watercress. “My daughter isn’t keen on crayfish, she calls them monsters!”

The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 8JU. Call 01635 528770 or visit the website: www.the-vineyard.co.uk