Russell Bateman’s interest in cooking was sparked at an early age. Although there were not an excess of quality restaurants in Hayes, the suburb of West London where he grew up, his grandparents were a strong influence. He remembers the fresh crunch of the vegetables his grandfather grew and the smell of fresh bread his grandmother used to make. His grandfather also brewed his own ale and although Russell Bateman never got to try any, the ceremony of him proudly opening a new batch is a fond memory.
He already knew what he wanted to be when the careers officer asked. His work experience placement was in a small Mediterranean restaurant, Tutto, run by Stephen Scuffell who was then Chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs. Russell Bateman loved what he saw: ‘The camaraderie, the tension, the hard physical work, the openness, the uniforms, the size of the place and most of all the food. I finally had a chance to learn something I was actually interested in. Stephen offered me a part-time job – I took it.’
Catering college followed, and a position at Harrods in Knightsbridge. While there he visited Oak Room run by Marco Pierre White and a passion for dining out was born: ‘I was a 17 year old and I was hooked.’ His next job was at Chapter One where in head chef Paul Dunstane he found his first mentor. He says ‘I still consider Paul a good friend and someone I owe a lot to.’ When Dunstane left to work at Chez Nico – the legendary Nico Ladenis’ flagship restaurant – he took Russell Bateman with him. He says he struggled in this position, his every error picked up by executive head chef Paul Rhodes, but despite the hardship he looks back on the experience with pleasure: ‘I know now he was helping me, shaping me, moulding me and preparing me for my next challenge.’
That next challenge came in the form of Marcus Wareing, who oversaw St. James Street – the original venue for Pétrus. Working there for more than two years, he helped open Fleur, The Savoy Grill and Pétrus’ new venue at The Berkeley. He says the work was difficult and gruelling, but that it was here that he really learnt to be a chef: ‘To cook, to taste, to practise, to perfect, to work, work and work some more. I never thought it at the time, but I owe Marcus Wareing a huge debt of gratitude.’ Although Russell Bateman is generous with his praise of all the outstanding chefs he has worked with, it is still Marcus Wareing that he considers the greatest influence on his cooking style, and on him as a person.
He continued moving onwards and upwards, working for a year with renowned chef Marc Veyrat at his eponymously named three Michelin-starred restaurant, La Maison de Marc Veyrat, in France. Every morning at 4.30am they went out into the Alps, picking herbs and wild flowers for use in the restaurant. The food here was born completely of the surrounding environment – ten years before Danish restaurant Noma popularised this ideology. He says: ‘This was Marc Veyrat’s great passion and one you see reflected on so many of today’s menus. He truly is the godfather of this style and that should not be forgotten.’ On returning to England he took up a position at The Capital Hotel under Eric Chavot, before moving onto Danesfield House Hotel in Marlow under Aiden Byrne and Midsummer House in Cambridge, working with Daniel Clifford. In 2007 came his first head chef role, at The Feathers Hotel in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, where over the next two years he learned the trade of managing a kitchen, rather than just cooking in one, and the variety of skills that entails.