The Fisher King
Others had an entirely different take on the dinner, though. “I don’t think the evening was designed to pull people together to work together,” says the Chefs Collaborative’s Kogut. “The spirit of the evening was more about understanding how [Roger] was viewing things.” And Kogut, unsurprisingly, found those views less than persuasive. When she asked Berkowitz how he knew that the tiger shrimp he buys from Vietnam are sustainable, for instance, she wasn’t satisfied with his answer. (Neither was he, actually. A few weeks later, he traveled to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to tour the farm where he gets the bulk of his tiger shrimp. He came back confident of their eco-friendliness.)
Blogger Richard Auffrey, who also attended the event, feels it was little more than a publicity stunt. “He said he didn’t think it would be so controversial, but he knew it would be,” says Auffrey. “But I do believe that he is concerned about sustainability and thinking about some things others aren’t thinking about. He’s truly seeking the best science.”
Michael Leviton, chef-owner of the restaurant Lumière in Newton and a board chair of the Chefs Collaborative, did not attend the meeting, but says he has his doubts about Berkowitz’s expertise. “If there really is some cutting-edge science that he is privy to that the rest of us are not, it would be awful nice to know about it,” he stonily suggests.
The most lasting effect of the dinner may be that everyone who already loved Berkowitz loved him more, and everyone who already disliked him disliked him more. Berkowitz doesn’t seem to care either way. “I wasn’t thumbing my nose,” he says. “I just needed to get another side of the story out there.
You have a responsibility to raise your hand if you don’t see things going right.”
It’s an honorable sentiment, but Berkowitz does seem to delight in public rumbles. Take, for example, another scuffle in which he found himself playing a leading role: Legal’s 2008 campaign that featured ads plastered onto T trolleys, with pictures of fish spouting off some very fresh lines, including the now-legendary “This conductor has a face like a halibut.” The Boston Carmen’s Union and its drivers were not amused. The union head complained bitterly and publicly, and Berkowitz’s subsequent “apology” served only to further inflame the situation. The apology read, in part, “We should have never, ever said ‘this conductor has a face like a halibut,’ when the truth is, most conductors don’t look anything at all like halibuts. Some look more like groupers or flounders.… And there’s one conductor on the Green Line that looks remarkably like a hammerhead shark.”
The union ended up calling for a boycott, which served mostly to generate a lot of attention for Berkowitz and his company. “The head of the Carmen’s union was a moron,” Berkowitz says. “I don’t know if ‘moron’ is the proper word. I think he was unprofessional in his response. He was saying I was an elitist. It was an idiotic statement, in my opinion. I suppose I should thank them. I never would have gotten all that national exposure if they hadn’t complained.”