Michael Bateman 'Independent on Sunday' Food Critic, 1932 - 2006

A boundless enthusiasm for food and for life
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The Independent Online

"Michael was groundbreaking," recalls Bateman's friend, the author Caroline Conran. A former chairwoman of the Guild of Food Writers, she first met Bateman when she was a journalist and he was food editor at The Sunday Times magazine. "We did lots of campaigns. We did the real bread campaign, and campaigns about muesli and how to make your own yoghurt. It was really very pioneering, because in the 1960s and 1970s practically no one had heard of things like that."

Born in Richmond, Surrey, in 1932, Bateman cut his teeth in journalism in the late 1950s at The Advertiser in Durham, before moving on to writing features for the nationals. At The Sunday Times, he also wrote the Atticus gossip column and edited the Lifespan pages, where he commissioned articles about food.

After leaving the paper in 1981, he went on to become deputy editor and food editor of the Sunday Express magazine, where he nurtured young food writers such as Sophie Grigson and Oz Clarke. In 1990, he became food writer for the newly launched Independent on Sunday, where he worked until his accident.

In 2000, Bateman's contribution to the field was recognised when he won the prestigious Glenfiddich Food Writer of the Year award. But perhaps his most defining achievement was the sheer enthusiasm that he brought to his subject. "His work was his life," says Heather Bateman, his wife of 28 years. "When he was editing he loved it because he would enthuse other people, so he liked that side of being an editor. But when he was a writer he was passionate about what he was doing, and going off and interviewing people, and getting into the subject in every possible way."

Bateman's love of food was partnered by a fondness for travel, especially to Spain and Latin America. These two passions were to combine in many of his books, such as Round the World in Recipes and Street Café Brazil. His last, The World of Spice, was published in the same month as his accident. "He said it was the best thing he'd ever written," recalls Heather.

Sadly, Bateman never saw the book published. While perhaps not unexpected, his death has left chefs and food writers reflecting on the loss of a man who, directly or indirectly, helped shape their industry as well as many of their careers.

"He's one of the unsung heroes in food journalism, because of his incredible passion for food," says Sophie Grigson, who counts herself as one of Bateman's protégés. "Not only did he write very well about food, but he had this desire to enthuse people about it.

"I suspect he threw himself into everything with enormous passion, but food particularly. He loved good food. He loved life."

WHAT THEY SAY

Raymond Blanc, chef

He was very outspoken, a no-nonsense food writer, who liked substance rather than design. He had the respect of everyone. Gastronomy should use the purest, most noble produce; Michael had already picked up on that.

Claudia Roden, food writer and cook

He was a big storyteller, a raconteur. He also thought about the connection between health and food much earlier than anyone else.

Sophie Grigson, food writer and cook

I owe my entire career to Michael. He was a wonderful editor, enormously supportive and very enthusiastic.

Anton Mosimann, chef

We met when I was chef at the Dorchester. Michael loved food. We clicked. He had a real vision of quality and produce, and I'm talking 20 years ago, when food wasn't as exciting as it is now.

Caroline Conran, food writer

We would have four-hour lunches, and we just laughed and laughed. He was such a wonderful man. He never stopped talking, of course. Never.

Vineet Bhatia, restaurateur

I knew him as a regular at the restaurant rather than as a critic. He used to love to have Indian food, and guided me in many ways. It is a real loss.

Rose Gray, chef

I was completely in awe of him. I met him when the River Café opened, in 1987. We were a modest little restaurant. He was incredibly nice about us.

Gordon Ramsay, chef

He was a great journalist, passionate about food, and will be sorely missed.

HIS OWN WORDS

This is from Michael Bateman's last 'IoS' piece in September 2003, detailing the origin of his enthusiasm for herbs and spices.

"When I lived in Hong Kong in my twenties, I marvelled at how Chinese cooks, working with similar ingredients to our own, could produce such different-tasting and delicious food. I soon realised that chilli, soy and masses of fresh ginger and garlic were the explanation and, from then on, my interest in herbs and spices was stirred.

"As I travelled more, it became obvious that my hunch was right: herbs and spices are key to all the different foods I was sampling. Hunting down spices became an obsession for me; whether it was finding a range of 60 fruity chillies (fresh, dried and smoked) in the Mercado de Abastos in Oaxaca, Mexico, or on a sensuous spice trail in Kerala, in India, a major source of cardamoms and peppercorns.

"Over the years I've completed much of the jigsaw of world cuisines and it all comes together in my book, The World of Spice, a collection of recipes showing how herbs and spices are used in different continents.

"But the fact is, I needn't have left home. It's a little-acknowledged fact that we in Britain have a better understanding of spices than any country in the Western world. A national passion, it's something to be proud of.

"In the 18th century, British colonists sent recipes back from India for chutneys, piccalillis and fruit sauces still in use today. Throughout the 20th we welcomed waves of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Thai restaurants.

"However, there are still places imbued with flavours yet to reach our shores..."

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