Sexual harassment scandal

Star chef Mario Batali takes step back from work

Famous chef and restaurant owner Mario Batali has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Famous chef and restaurant owner Mario Batali has been accused of sexual misconduct. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Celebrity chef Mario Batali, one of the United States' most high-profile restaurateurs, is stepping away from the daily operations of his businesses and the daytime programme he co-hosts on ABC, The Chew, amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

He released a statement after a report was published on Monday on Eater, the food website, that said four women had alleged that he touched them inappropriately in a pattern of behaviour that appeared to span at least two decades. Three of the women worked for him, and the fourth worked in the restaurant industry, Eater reported.

In his statement, Batali, 57, apologised and said the accusations "match up" with his behaviour.

"Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behaviour described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted," he said in the statement. "That behaviour was wrong and there are no excuses.

"I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses."

It was not immediately clear how long he planned to stay away from his businesses.

He made his remarks specifically in response to the Eater report, which included details from interviews with the women, who were not identified. They described behaviour that included breast groping and being grabbed from behind. In one instance, a woman said she was compelled to straddle Batali to get past him as he sat blocking an exit.

He had recently been reprimanded because of a complaint made in October by an employee at one of the more than 20 restaurants in the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, a company spokesman said on Monday.

The spokesman said Batali had been required to undergo sexual harassment training above what is already required of employees. He then volunteered to keep away from the restaurant where the employee worked and he has done so.

The spokesman would not name the restaurant where the woman worked and it was not clear if she was among the women interviewed in the Eater report.

The recent allegations led ABC to ask Batali, who has been on The Chew since 2011, to step away "while we review the allegations that have just recently come to our attention", the network said on Monday.

The allegations against Batali were among the latest to be made against prominent men in several industries following a New York Times report in October about women accusing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment.

The revelations about Batali have shaken up the food industry, where he is also a best-selling author of cookbooks. He has long appeared as a television personality in cooking competitions, including Iron Chef America and Top Chef. Last year, he was enlisted by then United States first lady Michelle Obama to put together the last state dinner of the Barack Obama presidency.

The allegations concerning Batali drew quick response from the food industry, including suggestions that such behaviour was widespread.

Tiffani Faison, a chef who was a finalist on the first season of Top Chef, suggested that there was a culture of silence in professional kitchens. "I cannot believe we are in a true watershed moment when NOT ONE MAN has gotten ahead of allegations," she wrote on Twitter. "They all know what they did and are just hoping their number doesn't come up. That is the opposite of integrity."

Like many of Batali's colleagues, Traci Des Jardins, the San Francisco chef who has known him since the late 1980s, was conflicted about the reports. She and others expressed sympathy for the people whose livelihoods depend on the Batali brand, as they did when allegations surfaced against John Besh, the high-profile New Orleans restaurateur, in October. In that city, people have vowed not to go to Besh's eateries.

Calls for boycotts of Batali's restaurants arose, although some expressed caution about such a boycott, saying it would hurt workers who had nothing to do with his behaviour.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline Star chef Mario Batali takes step back from work. Subscribe