Photo: Annie Schlechter
I don’t cook at all,” says Ariane Ruskin Batterberry, which may come as a surprise to one of the founders of Food & Wine magazine to say, as we have lunch at one of her favorite local restaurants near the Upper East Side apartment she’s lived in for more than 50 years. “I have no talent. Cooking really is a passion and a talent, and I didn’t have the talent; luckily, I didn’t have the passion. She and her late husband, Michael Batterberry, teamed up with three other people to found the magazine in 1978. “He would read cookbooks like you would read a novel,” she recalls, “and then he would invent something on his own.”
The Batterberrys met at a charity dance on the roof of the St. Regis Hotel in the early 1960s and were married in 1968. They then quickly traveled to France for their honeymoon and decided to stay longer than a year. It was during a car trip from Paris to Brittany that they bought much of the furniture in the apartment that they didn’t even have yet. She lives with all of these pieces to this day.
“There were some wonderful antique shops, but not that many,” she says, “and since they hadn’t seen a customer for months” – fallout from the nationwide strikes of 1968 – “we had a lot lucky to have the choice of wonderful pieces.”
Photo-Illustration: Lined; Photo: Annie Schlechter/[email protected]
(1) The Ceiling: “There were magnificent old moldings painted white,” explains Ariane Ruskin Batterberry. “It was Michael’s idea to ‘choose’ the molding to give it structure” and paint it — inspired by what he had seen in Portugal.
(2) The Bust: “We keep her facing out so you can’t see that she’s lost part of her chin.”
(3) The Portrait: “It dates from the 19th century and my great-uncle gave it to my parents as a wedding present because it looks exactly like my father.”
(4) Sconces: “They are Dutch. I bought them when I was young, before I got married. I was influenced by Jean Cocteau’s film Beauty and the Beast.
(5) The couch: The striped sofa under the window is a Civil War field bed. “Michael bought it when he was very young.”
(6) Spruce: “It’s from the days of Jane Austen.”
(7) Carpets: The large padding comes from New Mexico. “We bought it from Santé Fe; it was a hideous shade of purple, but we had seen some others and realized that if left in the sun for six months it would be just the right color.
After that, the Batterberrys continued to travel and collect; everything in the apartment has a story. The bust? “There was a famous sale at Villa Demidoff, which is outside Florence, and this bust was on a chest, a writing desk that had belonged to Catherine the Great. Michael realized it was never finished because someone removed too much stone. So his jaw would have been missing. We bought the bust for $125, and the chest it was on was $80,000! (They didn’t buy the trunk.) “We call her Betty Demidoff, and we keep her facing out so you can’t see she’s lost part of her chin.”
The living room doesn’t get much light, so she decided it should be painted a dark color. “Oh, I want to brag,” she said. “I was one of the first to use the color I was using in New York at the time; this color dates from 1969. It was inspired by interior designer Rose Cumming’s boutique. “I was completely convinced that her walls were the color I had chosen. I went back and realized that her walls were dark blue, but decided that I liked our color even more – brown. It was an imitation gone wrong.
As for the kitchen, “when we first looked at the apartment,” she says, “the previous tenants had painted it bright blue. Which is lovely but it’s just not food coloring, and we’ve always liked beige, because it’s food coloring. The kitchen walls have the hue of a freshly baked baguette.
It took them seven years to raise the money to start Food & Wine (there were three other co-founders; Playboy was a backer). Their magazine sought to be less stuffy than the then-dominant Gourmet. The partners sold it in 1980; he continues to publish to this day. In 1988, the Batterberrys launched the trade magazine culinary arts, which became part of Mr. Shanken Communications. Michael served as its editor until his death in 2010 – the same year the Batterberrys received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.