Bankers have got used to being called names over the past few years, but when the celebrity chef Mario Batali likened their impact on the world to that of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Wall Street took not just umbrage but action.
Traders and deal-doers are signing up to a boycott of Mr Batali's expensive restaurants, chichi New York eateries including Del Posto and Babbo, where they have celebrated their triumphs with Michelin-starred Italian fare or drowned their sorrows with fine wines through boom and bust alike.
And now Mr Batali is engaged in a desperate amount of grovelling to shore up his business, taking to Twitter first to claim he was misquoted and then to apologise if anyone thought he was equating the good folk of Wall Street to "two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history".
Mr Batali picked his foot from the menu and tucked in heartily at a lunch debate hosted on Tuesday by Time magazine, called to bat around some ideas for who should be named "Man of the Year" for 2011. The food writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and the late Steve Jobs were the chef's first two picks, but then he also put forward "the entire banking industry". He pointed out that Time hasn't always picked heroes for its end-of-year accolade – Stalin and Hitler are both former honorees – and the banking industry "has had the largest effect on the whole planet without us really paying attention".
After attacking bankers' "disregard for the people that they're supposed to be working for", he added: "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."
Mr Batali, it was clear the moment his quotes hit the blogs, will not be winning any accolades from his patrons on Wall Street. Bankers took to their Bloomberg terminals, the Street's network for news and information, to post angry messages, while on Twitter, the Bloomberg News food critic Ryan Sutton created the hashtag #bataligate for people to express their shared fury.
It is like the chief executive of Wal-Mart calling the lower and middle classes "white trash", one Twitterer said. "Good luck with your $300 white truffle tasting menu among the 99 per cent," said another, referring to the Occupy Wall Street protesters' chant of "We are the 99 per cent". One more said simply: "Occupy Babbo."
Worse, bankers began circulating a list of Mr Batali's restaurants, urging each other to cancel their reservations, and one banking sector boss declared he would no longer reimburse corporate entertainment expenses from any of the restaurants.
Mr Batali first tried to laugh off the controversy, claiming he was using "a metaphor", and then argued that he was "deliberately misquoted for a PR land-grab". But faced with a sudden and serious threat to his Italian food empire, he took to the Twitter to say sorry. "To remove any ambiguity about my appearance at yesterday's Time Person of the Year panel, I want to apologise for my remarks," he said.Reuse content