Michael Bateman: A man of taste
We pay tribute to Michael Bateman, the food writer who died last month. We start with this profile by Paul Levy
Sunday 16 April 2006
Michael Bateman had the two qualities needed to be any good as a food writer - enthusiasm and judgement. It's not difficult to be enthusiastic about food, but it's not so easy to be discriminating about what you put in your mouth, or recommend others to put in theirs. Good taste is required, but also scepticism.
In the course of his career as food writer for The Independent on Sunday, he had to deal with every sort of industry, trade and special interest group. He listened to the Chorleywood people responsible for the sliced white loaf, then he started a Campaign for Real Bread. In the midst of the 1996 BSE crisis he wrote a series of articles encouraging his readers to eat meat, but to eat better meat, pointing out that cheap prices entailed intensive farming practices such as cattle being fed the remains of other animals. He also pointed out that "you're as likely to choke on a cherry stone as contract CJD from eating beef".
Michael always did his homework. Other subjects on which he wrote passionately included apples, chillies, and spices, especially saffron. To write about life in a restaurant kitchen, he did what the French call a stage (an unpaid apprenticeship) with Gordon Ramsay, before Ramsay became the most famous chef in the universe. And Michael wrote about school dinners while Jamie was still eating them.
As a talker, Michael was the master of the non-linear narrative, so it may come as a surprise that he was an ace interviewer. Indeed, he won the golden apple of interviewing, the story no one else could get, the interview every other food journalist coveted: Elizabeth David. It was exactly 40 years ago, and despite opening an entire case of Gigondas after having disposed of the claret, the interview proceeds in a completely orderly fashion, and touches on most aspects of her career better than did the first book-length biography of the original foodie goddess.
Though he is completely self-effacing in the published version - an abridged version of which appears overleaf - his sharp mind and quick wit are reflected in her open replies. There can be no greater tribute to Michael's skill and craft than to say you can hear his own slightly hoarse, always attractive voice in her responses. s
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