By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2010; B04
Michael Batterberry, an authority on the aesthetics of food and culture who, with his wife, launched two magazines that influenced the thinking of home cooks and chefs alike, died July 28 of cancer at a hospital in New York City. He was 78.
Mr. Batterberry had been a journalist and historian before he and his wife, Ariane, founded Food & Wine magazine in 1978. Food & Wine capitalized on, and contributed to, a new wave of culinary sophistication in the United States.
The Batterberrys sold the magazine after only two years, but the editorial formula they created -- with down-to-earth features on diet foods, menus for one and step-by-step cooking instructions -- has influenced dozens of other magazines and television shows.
Mr. Batterberry and his wife settled into a comfortable life as arbiters of taste and forecasters of trends in food. Their book "On the Town in New York," first published in 1973 and updated in 1998, is considered the authoritative history of dining in the country's culinary capital.
"Don't fall for the romance of early New York life," Mr. Batterberry said in 1991, describing older tastes in food. "Those were rough times. People wanted comfort, not challenge."
In 1988, the Batterberrys launched Food Arts magazine, a lavishly produced publication for the hotel and restaurant trade. The magazine, whose small circulation of 56,000 belies its outsize influence, reports on new trends in dining and spotlights up-and-coming restaurants and chefs. Mr. Batterberry was editor until his death; his wife is publisher.
Michael Carver Batterberry was born April 8, 1932, to American parents in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, where his father was a business executive with Procter & Gamble. He later moved to Cincinnati and attended what is now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Batterberry led a romantically peripatetic early life, working as a painter, a sketch artist in Paris and a cabaret singer in Rome. He opened an interior design firm in Venezuela.
The author of 18 books, Mr. Batterberry had little interest in writing about food until he married Ariane Ruskin in 1968 and settled in New York. He published several textbooks on art history on his own, but together the couple explored restaurants and began to write about food from a cultural and historical perspective.
They developed the concept for Food & Wine in the early 1970s but found little support until Hugh Hefner published a prototype in Playboy magazine and furnished startup money.
Washington Post food writer William Rice described the couple in 1978 as "young and well entrenched in the New York social scene," adding that they were already facing an envy-fueled backlash and "have been characterized as dilettantes, social climbers and, inevitably, bad cooks."
The Batterberrys wrote a column on food trends for USA Today, as well as several books on entertaining, food and fashion. In the 1990s, Mr. Batterberry was the host of a public television program on chefs.
He and his wife traveled widely and were well connected in the food world. At a seminar in Rhode Island in 1997, Mr. Batterberry described his most memorable seafood meal: He was in the Greek islands with a fisherman who grilled a freshly caught fish on the deck of his boat.
"He fetched a bucket of seawater, and he'd dip the fish in the saltwater," Mr. Batterberry recalled. "That was the only seasoning."
In May, Mr. Batterberry and his wife received a lifetime achievement award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation. "Michael and Ariane are certainly legends in the culinary publishing world," Susan Ungaro, the foundation president, said at the time. "Thirty years ago they started a hallmark magazine that people still look to today."
In addition to his wife, survivors include a sister.
The Batterberrys envisioned Food & Wine -- originally called the International Journal of Food & Wine -- as a more lively and controversial alternative to the well-established Gourmet magazine.
"We don't pay very much attention to new magazines," a senior editor of Gourmet told The Post at the time. "We don't look at the others as competition. They look at us, try to copy us and fail miserably."
Food & Wine, now owned by American Express, has a current circulation of more than 900,000. Gourmet folded last year.