Celebrity chef Mario Batali has taken leave from ABC’s The Chew and his B&B Hospitality Group, a global restaurant empire, amid sexual harassment allegations made by former employees.
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Speaking exclusively to Eater New York, four women, all former employees, accuse Batali of “inappropriate touching in a pattern of behaviour that spans at least two decades.” They allege he inappropriately touched them, groped them and made lewd comments. The orange Crocs-wearing celeb chef was known for “constantly making overtly sexual and inappropriate” comments, according to a former staffer at one of his New York restaurants.
Fellow celebrity chef and television personality, Anthony Bourdain, alluded to the expose in two tweets yesterday, writing, “No. Trust me. Monday is really going to suck,” in one. And then followed up with another.
Batali, who is also a minority stakeholder in the Eataly franchise, said to Eater that he would take leave from his restaurant operations and his co-hosting duties on The Chew for an unspecified time. He also admitted that the alleged incidents “match up” with his behaviour.
“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. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behaviour. I won’t make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there,” he said.
The women have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of retribution — Batali is an exceptionally powerful player in the restaurant industry — and they have described him as vindictive when crossed.
“He has clear intent on being threatening when he is wronged. And the level of vindictiveness is very chilling,” one woman said.
As recently as this past October, Batali was reprimanded for inappropriate behaviour when a B&B restaurant employee filed a formal complaint. He was ordered to undergo training, according to the company.
The company says although it has had sexual harassment training in place for over 10 years, it will now enlist an independent corporate investigations firm for any employees who wish to make a claim against a restaurant owner.
“We take these allegations very seriously. We pride ourselves on being a workplace for our employees where they can grow and deliver great service with equal opportunity and free from any discrimination. We have strong policies and practices in place that address sexual harassment. We train employees in these policies and we enforce them, up to and including termination,” B&B said in a statement. “Mr. Batali and we have agreed that he will step away from the company’s operations, including the restaurants, and has already done so.”
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