Bankers are promising to cease occupying Mario Batali's restaurants after the chef and restaurateur compared them to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The celebrity chef drew the comparison at a Time event about who should be the magazine's person of the year, saying, "So the ways the bankers have kind of toppled the way money is distributed and taken most of it into their hands is as good as Stalin or Hitler and the evil guys…They’re not heroes, but they are people that had a really huge effect on the way the world is operating."
Financial workers who heard about the remarks stormed the comments section at Bloomberg's internal restaurant review pages, and bankers have reportedly already begun voting with their wallets, canceling reservations at New York's Babbo and Del Posto. The resulting conflagration on Twitter and on Bloomberg's internal comments speaks to what we already knew were delicate sensibilities on the part of Batali's financial-world customers.
"Used to frequent this place but Mario will never see a dime of my money again. I’d rather eat at a hot dog cart," one wrote about Del Posto, according to Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton. "Screw this jerk. Plenty of great Italian places in NYC. No need to support him. Ecco on Chambers Street blows his food out of the water anyway," said another. Sutton also tweeted this one: "Credit derivatives trader calls me: 'I spent $4,000 on a white truffle dinner on Monday at Babbo. This is sh!tty. I feel used.' " Another trader from ICE futures told Sutton (per his Twitter), "Occupy Babbo ... I'm calling for a Wall St.-Wide Boycott." Eater reports that "one large bank has canceled all Batali restaurant reservations while another bank sent out a memo today to all staffers saying they wouldn't reimburse receipts from Babbo and others in the group."
Batali says he was misquoted, but Bercovic, who cited a Time's recording of the event, said he gave Batali ample opportunity to explain the comparison when he grilled him afterwards:
After the debate concluded, I asked Batali if he could elaborate on his belief in moral equivalence between the guys whose greed caused the mortgage crisis and the tyrants who slaughtered millions and reduced Europe to rubble. "Oh, that was just a metaphor," he said. But, offered the opportunity to back down from his pronouncement, he stood firm. "The way people change lives, I do think bankers change lives as much as a repressive [inaudible] autocrat. But, that said, it was more direct." ("It" presumably meaning the Hitler/Stalin form of evil.)
The limited public follow-up between Batali and Bercovici speaks to some bad blood behind the scenes of a news story. Batali said in a tweet, "Mr b deliberately misquoted me for a pr land grab." Bercovici tweeted in reply: "Misquoted you? Everything you said's on tape. I even gave you a chance to clarify afterward." Bercovici told us on the phone that that's been the extent of his and Batali's discussion following the story. "I have called and emailed his spokesperson to see if he wants to clarify his comments or explain why he feels he was misquoted, and I haven’t heard back," Bercovici said.
But regardless of who said what about which monster of history, Sutton said the trading world is feeling pretty burned up about Batali. "Regardless of what happened, Batali needs to find a way to make the financial industry happy very quickly, because these people who spend lots of money at his restaurants are very unhappy, and by virtue of that, it appears that they will stop spending money at his restaurants. Regardless of what was said or not said, it's Batali's challenge to fix this."
Update (6:05 p.m. EST): Batali issued an apology on Wednesday afternoon, which Bloomberg published:
To remove any ambiguity about my appearance at yesterday’s Time Person of the Year panel, I want to apologize for my remarks. It was never my intention to equate our banking industry with Hitler and Stalin, two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history.
Also, Time has posted video of Batali making his controversial remarks, in case you're interested: