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Everyone who knew him was shocked and saddened by the news that our Head Chef, Michael Batoux, recently lost his battle with cancer.

I was first introduced to Michael when he was Executive Head Chef at the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shard – the perfect credentials for the pressures of catering for nearly 500 primary aged children. His CV read pretty well too, with plenty of experience in Michelin star restaurants, including a stint under the guidance of Marco Pierre-White. Michael was particularly pleased with a scar on his forearm which, he claimed, was the consequence of an altercation with his former mentor that involved a blow torch. Fact or fiction, Michael was without doubt a great storyteller and a top chef.

At interview I asked the obvious question: given your experience, why are you applying for the job at Highgate Primary School? I expected his answer to be around reclaiming his evening, weekends and holidays, but it was clear that this was not the case as Michael was never one to take things easy. He had an incredible work ethic, never missed a day’s work and always arrived at school long before everyone else to start his prep. When it came to holidays, Michael often worked in other establishments including signing up to work as an NHS volunteer during the recent lockdown.

Very simply, Michael applied for the job because he was genuinely excited about working with children. He loved our children and thrived on the enthusiasm and interest they showed in his food. He hadn’t been trained as a teacher, as revealed rather spectacularly during a knife skills lesson with a Year 6 cookery class. With all the blue plasters used up in the first five minutes, he later claimed that a few cuts was the quickest way for the children to learn. But he was of course a very natural teacher, always keen to pass on and share his knowledge of ingredients, techniques and recipes. I understand that some of our children regularly follow the recipes Michael taught them during his cookery clubs.

Michael’s commitment to developing an international menu at school reflected his French-Canadian roots and his experience as head Chef on the luxury yacht ‘Seabourn Legend’ – a stint that took him to most parts of the world. His menus were ambitious, however children were taken on a culinary journey that will influence their eating habits for life. Those lucky enough to attend his now legendary pop-up supper club, can testify to Michael’s skill, passion and flair in the kitchen.

Michael was a lot of fun to be around and had a great, sometimes subversive, sense of humour. With the international menu, Michael was always keen to show the best of a particular country’s cuisine, with the exception of America. As a proud Canadian, it gave him great pleasure, every now and then, to serve low-grade hot dogs, delivered with much whooping and hollering and a knowing smile.

Michael popped into school towards the end the summer term to say his goodbyes before moving back to France and beyond. We all knew the seriousness of his diagnosis but Michael put everyone at ease, accepting of what lay ahead, putting our wellbeing above his own.

Michael will naturally be desperately missed, but all of us here at school are so grateful to him for the wonderful culinary legacy that lives on.