Mario Batali apologizes for sex misconduct, leaves restaurants, ‘Chew’

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Mario Batali is photographed on October 25, 2017 in New York City. |Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company

NEW YORK —Celebrity chef Mario Batali stepped away from his restaurant empire and cooking show “The Chew” on Monday as he said that reports of sexual misconduct “match up” to his behavior.

Food news website Eater New York published an article Monday that said four women accused the chef of inappropriate touching. One of the women said that Batali groped her chest after wine spilled on her shirt. Another said he grabbed her from behind and held her tightly against his body. Eater said the four women, three of whom worked for Batali, asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

The sexual misconduct allegations are the latest to come against powerful men in entertainment, politics and other industries. Batali, who has appeared on “The Chew” since its debut six years ago, oversees several restaurants in a handful of cities.

Batali apologized in a statement Monday, and said that “much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted.”

A representative for his restaurant business, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, said an employee reported inappropriate behavior by Batali in October. The company told Eater it was the first formal complaint against Batali and that he was reprimanded and required to attend training.

The group’s restaurants include Babbo in New York, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in Las Vegas and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.

Batali is also a minority shareholder in the Eataly USA chain of food emporiums/restaurant hubs, according to a spokesperson for the company. The chain includes a location on East Ohio Street in Chicago, which opened in 2013, as well as outlets in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.  Eataly USA and BBHG are separate and distinct companies.

In a statement, Eataly USA said Batali’s actions towards women “were extremely troubling.” The statement also confirmed that Batali would be stepping away from any active involvement with the company. “Eataly cares deeply about creating a safe and comfortable environment for all our employees and customers, free of harassment, discrimination and retaliation,” the statement further added.

UPDATED DEC. 14: Batali has been the recipient of numerous James Beard Awards and nominations for culinary excellence. The James Beard Foundation issued a statement on Dec. 14 about the matter.

The James Beard Foundation and our independent, volunteer James Beard Awards Committees recognize the seriousness of the sexual harassment and misconduct revelations surrounding some previous JBF Award winners, currently unfolding in the press and on social media. We do not condone any behavior contrary to the values of good leadership that our awards represent or that in any way thwarts the opportunity for everyone in our industry to thrive. With our awards and other programs, we remain committed to cultivating, celebrating, and honoring chefs and others in our industry who demonstrate both gastronomic greatness and good leadership. As we continue to monitor the news, the Foundation and its Awards Committees are evaluating our policies to both ensure the integrity of our programs, and be certain they remain a beacon of excellence and source of inspiration in our industry.

In 2012, Batali and his business partners agreed to pay more than $6 million to settle two separate lawsuits from restaurant workers who said they were deprived of tips or overtime pay.

Batali, who is 57, was well known in culinary circles, taking jobs early in his career as a sous chef at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

His career took off after he opened Po in New York City in the early 1990s, and he skyrocketed to fame with the airing of “Molto Mario,” a show that ran on the Food Network for eight years, until 2004. It was there that his signature look — a fleece vest, shorts, and orange Crocs — became recognizable to most people. He has also won several prestigious James Beard awards, which are considered the Academy Awards of the culinary world.

The Food Network planned to relaunch “Molto Mario” next year, but said Monday that the show would be put on hold. The network “takes matters like this very seriously,” it said in a statement.

A wave of sexual misconduct allegations have come forth in politics and Hollywood, gaining momentum after shocking allegations of abuse and assault by film and TV producer Harvey Weinstein.

The #MeToo movement has brought allegations against Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K. and news anchor Matt Lauer, and led to resignations in Congress. There are new calls for President Donald Trump to address sexual misconduct allegations that he’s faced. And last week Time magazine named the “silence breakers,” those who have shared their stories about sexual assault and harassment, as Person of the Year.

The allegations against Batali are likely to hurt his restaurant business, especially if he is off TV, branding and marketing experts said.

“The media presence drives the restaurant business,” said Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting.

Batali has also been socially active. The Mario Batali Foundation advocates child nutrition. And he has come out forcefully against hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract oil and gas.

Michelle Chapman and Joseph Pisani, Associated Press.Contributing: Sun-Times staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio

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