In today’s media-rich environment, we no longer have to wait for politicians to commit the Gaffe of the Week—witness the recent controversy created by Mario Batali.
Speaking at a panel sponsored by Time magazine last Tuesday, the celebrity chef offered an unsolicited opinion about the country’s current economic situation, comparing bankers to two of history’s most infamous dictators. “The ways the bankers have kind of toppled the way money is distributed and taken most of it into their own hands is as good as Stalin or Hitler and the evil guys…their evil has had a huge effect on the world.”
The problem, of course, is that two of Batali’s most successful restaurants (Babbo and Del Posto) are located in lower Manhattan, and happen to be particular favorites of Wall Street brokers and investment bankers. Although this irony seems to have been lost on Batali, his best customers were predictably outraged. Many cancelled reservations immediately, and a large number vowed to boycott the two eateries indefinitely. After dropping $4,000 on a white truffle dinner, there’s nothing more satisfying than being equated with a homicidal maniac.
There are a number of morals to this story, but the most obvious one is that chefs—like athletes—should probably keep their mouths shut more often. There’s a good analogy between the two groups. The ability to cook a mean veal chop, or to run a football downfield, does not qualify you as an oracle on the social issues of the day. If you doubt this, spend some time in a locker room or a professional kitchen. Most of the conversation you hear will not be enlightening, and much of it will not be pretty.
What’s Mario Batali doing on this type of news panel in the first place? If his opinions matter, why not solicit the views of Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian on foreign policy? According to the inevitable joke that’s circulating now, it’s a good thing that investment bankers are boycotting Babbo and Del Posto, since the rest of us might actually be able to get a table. The joke’s on us, though, if we allow those who make dinner to also formulate our social commentary.