Mario Batali is on leave from his restaurants as well as his co-hosting position at ABC’s The Chew after multiple accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, as detailed in an investigation by Eater that was published this morning.
According to Eater’s report, at least four women have accused Batali of unwanted touching, including groping, hugging, and in one case, coercing a woman to straddle him. Dozens of other current and former employees, most speaking under the condition of anonymity, say that Batali frequently made verbal comments drawing attention to to women’s bodies and made lewd, sexually charged jokes that contributed to an uncomfortable and at times threatening work environment at his restaurants.
One chef says that the first time she met Batali, he “began rubbing her breasts with his bare hands” after she spilled wine on her low-cut shirt. Other women allege that he repeatedly “grabbed [them] from behind and held [them] tightly against his body” or grabbed their breasts. Many of the incidents took place when Batali had been drinking, several women say.
Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group—which operates roughly 24 restaurants co-owned by Batali and business partners Joe and Lidia Bastianich, as well as other investors—has an estimated annual revenue of $250 million or more, and includes revered New York City restaurants Del Posto and Babbo. As of Monday morning, B&B’s website was down.
Some of the allegations against Batali date back as far as the 1990s. But according to a spokesperson for B&B Hospitality Group, Batali was also made to undergo training in October after a restaurant employee brought forth unspecified allegations about his inappropriate conduct.
Additionally, in May, Babbo pastry chef Isaac Franco Nava filed a lawsuit claiming that he was harassed by his fellow employees for his sexual orientation. Franco alleges that coworkers used homophobic slurs and called him “girly,” as well as made comments that he was a “stupid Mexican,” and that Batali did little or nothing to help; in the suit, he described the abuse as “open and notorious” as well as “hostile, aggressive, threatening, demeaning and embarrassing.” Franco was eventually fired for an unrelated transgression involving an alleged misunderstanding over a pork chop. At least two other employees at Babbo have also previously filed suits against Batali and Bastianich alleging harassment in the workplace committed by other employees.
Speaking to Eater, Batali was forthcoming about issues with his behavior and did not deny the allegations.
“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family,” he said. “[…] We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. 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 […] I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone.”
In a statement provided to MUNCHIES, B&B Hospitality Group said:
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.
Mr. Batali and we have agreed that he will step away from the company’s operations, including the restaurants, and he has already done so. Our restaurants thrive because of the chefs, kitchen staff, and front-of-the-house teams who are dedicated to delivering great food and service. We are confident that they will continue working hard for our guests as they have done for years.
We have had systematic policies and training about sexual harassment for over 10 years, including a detailed procedure for employees to report complaints to senior management. All members of management have participated in these trainings, including Mr. Batali.
We have decided to take a further step beyond our current policies and practices to ensure all employees feel comfortable and empowered to report issues. If employees have claims they want to make against any corporate officers or owners specifically, they may not contact the outside corporate investigations firm T&M Protection Resources, LLC, who has discretion to independently investigate complaints and report to outside counsel.
In an October 30 video for Fast Company, Batali spoke about the importance of a “workplace free of fear, that harbors an excellent feeling of the potential for collaboration and creativity.” The video’s focus was how to combat sexual harassment, and was released shortly after the stories of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct went public. Speaking at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Batali said, “I think the reckoning is coming across the board. It is a time for women and men to face each other across the board, across the table.”
The Food Network, which launched Batali’s career as a celebrity chef and has been his largest platform, has announced that it will shelve plans to relaunch his series Molto Mario in 2018. Batali has also appeared as a host on the network’s series Iron Chef America as well as several other shows .
MUNCHIES has previously worked with Batali on the series Moltissimo and he has appeared on other MUNCHIES shows. He also wrote the foreword to the MUNCHIES cookbook.