by Nathan Bomey and Zaiati Meyer, USA Today.
TV star and renowned chef Mario Batali is stepping down from his company and TV show for an indefinite period after being accused of habitually sexually harassing and inappropriately touching women as he ruled his food empire.
Multiple anonymous women alleged in a story by online food-trade publication Eater New York that Batali had groped their breasts or buttocks, amid other allegations.
Without addressing the specific allegations, Batali acknowledged personal “failures” and pledged to try to “regain” the “respect and trust” of his fans, family, business partners and employees.
“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,” Batali said in a statement. “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.”
“We take these allegations very seriously,” B&B Hospitality Group said in a statement. “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.”
ABC confirmed to USA TODAY that it had temporarily removed Batali as co-host of his daytime show, The Chew.
“We have asked Mario Batali to step away from The Chew while we review the allegations that have just recently come to our attention,” ABC said in a statement. “ABC takes matters like this very seriously as we are committed to a safe work environment. While we are unaware of any type of inappropriate behavior involving him and anyone affiliated with the show, we will swiftly address any alleged violations of our standards of conduct.”
With restaurants such as Babbo Ristorante in New York, B&B Ristorante in Las Vegas and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Batali built a sprawling empire that solidified his position among the top American culinary icons.
Having grown his reputation with a major TV presence, including many past appearances on the Food Network, Batali published numerous cookbooks, had his name attached to sauces for sale in stores and racked up millions of followers on social media.
Batali’s misconduct was bordering on “common knowledge” in the food industry, said chef, food writer and author Allison Robicelli, who hailed the revelations as “a day of celebration” for women the TV star mistreated.
“He would behave in a certain way knowing he could get away with it,” Robicelli said, citing Batali’s phalanx of lawyers and power to make or break people’s careers. “There are hundreds of women who have been scared to say anything” about him.
In addition to Batali’s ABC gig, the Food Network has suspended plans to revive Batali’s famed show, Molto Mario. The network, which had recently announced plans for several new episodes, did not comment on whether it had ever received complaints about Batali’s behavior.
“Food Network takes matters like this very seriously and we are putting relaunch plans for Molto Mario on hold,” the network said.
A representative declined to make Batali available for an interview.
Eater New York said it had interviewed dozens of people who had worked with Batali, including former employees.
One woman reportedly said Batali “grabbed both of my breasts” at a party, while another said he “put his hand on half of my butt and he squeezed it.”
Others said Batali repeatedly used sexual innuendo, asked women about their sex lives and inquired about their underwear.
The Batali scandal comes amid a flurry of sexual misconduct accusations against celebrities, journalists, business titans and politicians.
The #MeToo movement has inspired countless women to speak up about various forms of mistreatment dating back decades, toppling powerful men who escaped consequences for years.
Unlike some of the other alleged perpetrators, Batali is the face of his business, leaving open the possibility he won’t be completely removed from power.
But Bruce Turkel, executive creative director of the Miami-based branding and crisis management firm Turkel Brands, said most people whose names are synonymous with their own brands can’t make it through something like this unscathed.
In the restaurant industry, the faces of those behind big food ventures are almost as important as the taste of the food itself. Michelin-starred chefs develop their own followings.
“His investors need to be worried because he’s face of the brand. So much is tied to his persona — there will definitely be a downside,” New York-based brand expert Allen Adamson said. “Anytime you have someone as unique as he is, it’s harder to go to the bullpen.”
It’s not the first allegation of harassment in the food industry. In October, celebrity chef John Besh resigned from his restaurant group after sexual harassment allegations surfaced. One of the whistleblowers, Lindsey Reynolds, was part of the group Time magazine highlighted for its Person of the Year honor.