I don't think I went to a food event where I didn't see Michael Batterberry and his wife, Ariane. Like, maybe, ever. His wide, handsome face was unmistakable, and he cut a very deliberately dashing figure; he was frankly theatrical, and his booming, mid-Atlantic voice. Of course he'd grown up in England and Venezuela. Of course he had been a cabaret singer in Rome—you could imagine him, in his tailored, double-breasted suit, sitting at the keyboard while he was talking to you.
It was his work that made him stand apart from other men about town. He wrote thoroughly researched, stylish pieces: he cared about history and scholarship along with the latest trends, which he usually saw before most everyone else did, and with his wife he wrote numerous books, including one I frequently consult, On the Town in New York. That effortless erudition and prolificity were more English than American, and unexpected in someone so relentlessly social.
But the way he was social belied that underlying seriousness. Michael wasn't curious in only that social way I've learned to recognize but am nonetheless always sucked in by—the hanging on your every word as if you're the very most interesting person on earth let alone the room, when of course you'll be nonexistent the minute your rapt listener's attention is caught by someone more glittering than you. Michael remembered, he followed up, and pursued the subject you'd brought up for an article in Food Arts—preferably by you, if you were willing to work for slave wages and be made to re-report, rewrite, and re-think for them, too.
Ah, for the days when slave wages seemed worth thinking about twice! We'll set that subject aside to hear from one of his marvelously energetic, smart slavedrivers—my old friend Julie Mautner, for 10 years the executive editor of Food Arts. Julie evokes the magazine's start-up in the Batterberry's posh living room and eventual migration to the offices of the Wine Spectator, where I remember visiting the small, closely knit crew. Michael's office was a salon, as she describes, where if you didn't actually meet someone you wanted and needed to you'd have an introduction before you left—his favorite activity was putting ideas and people together.
There have been fittingly English-style obituaries, including nice ones in the Post and the Times. But no one's is fonder or more knowing than Julie's. I'm awfully glad to have it, and sorry to lose such an unmistakable presence in the food world.
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