Celebrity chef and TV personality Mario Batali is mostly known for two things: orange Crocs and ultra-luxurious Michelin Star-winning Italian restaurants. The clogs are arguably the hideous shoes of the Everyman; the restaurants, not so much. Just one example: on November 7, his NYC-based Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca hosted its annual “Gaja and Truffles” event, a prix fixe tasting menu event featuring truffle-based dishes and vintage wines for the bargain basement price of $995 per person. (Tax and gratuity included!) With an estimated net worth of $25 million himself, there’s no question that Batali’s bread is buttered on the side of wealth and luxury, no matter how humble his beginnings were. Yet the chef seems to fancy himself an active member of The 99 Percent. In an interview with CNN over his choice for Person of the Year, he somehow managed to shoehorn in a jab at the 1 percent, comparing investment bankers to the world’s worst dictators.
"I would have to say that who has had the largest effect on the whole planet without us really paying attention across the board and everywhere is the entire banking industry and their disregard for the people they're supposed to be working for,” said Batali. “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."
Nooooooooooo! Mario, you just invoked Godwin’s Law and you weren’t even posting on the internet.
What’s worse, bankers started pulling out of reservations at Batali-owned restaurants left and right. Restaurant critic Ryan Sutton compiled a mass of complaints from insulted diners who had recently dropped thousands on meals at Babbo and Del Posto, expressing their anger through messages and Tweets seething with “Occupy Babbo!” rallying cries and hashtags like #bataligate and #boycottbatali.
So Mario was faced with two choices. He could own the previous statement, elucidating his remarks with less name-calling and more finesse. Or he could just recant and apologize, which is exactly what happened (on Twitter, natch) because alienating your client base is bad for business and all those Crocs don’t just pay for themselves. "To remove any ambiguity about my appearance at yesterday’s Time Person of the Year panel, I want to apologize for my remarks,” Batali tweeted. "It was never my intention to equate our banking industry with Hitler and Stalin, two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history." Whether the banking industry on the whole is willing to accept Batali’s apology remains to be seen.
Whether you agree or disagree with Batali’s indictment is secondary. The morals in this cautionary tale are timeless ones: avoid bringing politics into the workplace, and think before you speak. Otherwise, you might just find yourself in the awkward situation of inadvertently biting the hand that feeds you. Lessons learned.