Bankers Blast Batali’s Attack; Others Say `Leave Mario Alone!'

Batali and Bastianich's Babbo in New York
A pedestrian walks past Babbo in New York on March 14, 2008. Chef Mario Batali opened Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in 1998 with business partner Joseph Bastianich. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

When Mario Batali, the New York-based restaurateur and celebrity chef, compared bankers to Hitler and Stalin on Tuesday, the response from patrons of Babbo and Del Posto in the financial industries was swift and furious.

The responses of people farther removed from Batali’s Manhattan bastions of expense-account living were considerably more benign.

“Leave Mario alone!” Sheldon Buckman, a certified public accountant in Boca Raton, Florida, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “The bankers ARE the evil guys! No matter to whom one compares them.”

“I believe that opinion reflects the majority of Americans these days in how we perceive the banks,” Michael-Patrick Hogue, a Los Angeles-based event producer, wrote in an another e-mail. “I don’t think he should be fried for his opinion.”

Batali, 51, spoke on Nov. 8 at a Time magazine event to propose candidates for the world’s “Person of the Year.”

“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,” said Batali, according to a video Time posted. “They’re not heroes, but they are people that had a really huge effect on the way the world is operating.”

Batali issued a conciliatory statement on Wednesday.

“To remove any ambiguity about my appearance at yesterday’s Time Person of the Year panel, I want to apologize for my remarks,” Batali said Wednesday through his spokeswoman, Pamela Lewy. “It was never my intention to equate our banking industry with Hitler and Stalin, two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history.”

Call for Boycott

Hundreds of users of the Bloomberg terminal’s interactive DINE function, where they can comment on restaurants, posted criticisms. Many called for a boycott of Batali’s establishments, which include Babbo, Del Posto, Esca and Eataly in New York and outposts in other cities.

“A significant portion of Batali’s ‘better’ (i.e. willing to spend a lot of money) customers will not soon forget these comments and his utter disrespect for the financial industry at large,” Jason Mieras, a New Jersey-based financial planner, wrote in an e-mail. Mieras said he’s had great meals at Del Posto and Batali’s Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

“My wife will be disappointed but I will no longer support him,” Mieras wrote.

Others wrote in blaming bankers for U.S. economic ills and defending Batali’s right to free speech.

Steve Jobs

He appeared on the Time panel with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams (who suggested the late Apple Inc. Chairman Steve Jobs for person of the year); Jesse Eisenberg, the actor (proposing “populist movements”); Anita Hill, the Brandeis University law professor (proposing Elizabeth Warren, the former White House aide); and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (proposing Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor whose self-immolation is credited with helping to incite the Arab Spring).

“I like Steve Jobs,” said Batali, when Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time, turned to him, according to the video. “I think he did a really good job in changing the way people actually behave.”

“In terms of changing the way people think, I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan,” Batali added, referring to the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Food Rules” and other books about our attitudes toward the food we consume.

“But I would have to say that who’s had the largest effect on the whole planet without us really paying attention, across the board in every way, is the entire banking industry and their disregard for the people that they’re supposed to be working for,” Batali continued. Then he expanded on his comments with the allusion to Hitler and Stalin.

“Why not interview him and have him explain why he would charge three to 10 times more than others for french fries, soda and the fancy foods he’s selling to the RICH,” wrote Ben Camacho of Howell, New Jersey, “if he cared so much for the little man, the 99 percent.”

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