Mario Batali, one of America's most prominent chefs and restaurateurs, is taking an indefinite leave of absence from both his restaurant empire, B&B Hospitality Group, and ABC's The Chew following allegations of habitual sexual misconduct. In a report by Eater on Monday, four women accuse Batali of inappropriately touching them on multiple ocassions and interviews with dozens of current and former employees suggest a pattern of sexual harassment that spans at least 20 years.
The women -- three of whom worked a Batali restaurant in some capacity -- allege that Batali groped their breasts or grabbed them from behind, among other allegations. A fourth woman, a chef who has never worked for Batali, accused him of "rubbing her breasts with his bare hands" after someone spilled wine all over her shirt at an after-party for a wine auction in New Orleans 10 years ago, according to the report. "He just went to town, and I was so shocked,” she said.
A former server at Pó, a now-defunct West Village restaurant where Batali climbed to fame as the restaurant's chef, alleged that Batali grabbed her from behind and pressed his body against hers "like a linebacker, like a disgusting bear hug" on multiple occasions over the course of nearly two years in the '90s. In hours of interviews with Eater, she said the harassment would often occur in the cramped areas between the restaurant's dining room and kitchen. Steve Crane, who owned the restaurant with Batali, said he confronted Batali after receiving multiple complaints from staff about the chef's inappropriate behavior, but ultimately could not fire him because they were partners. The server alleged Batali would become more aggressive after these confrontations, per the report.
Another woman accused Batali of groping her shortly after she started working for him at a restaurant in the late '90s. Batali “put his hand on half of my butt and he squeezed it" in the restaurant's dining room, she said, according to the report. In a second incident years later, Batali allegedly forced her to climb over and straddle him twice by sitting with his legs propped up in a way that blocked her exit when she needed to leave to use the restroom. A fourth woman, who stopped working for Batali a few years before the incident, accused him of grabbing her breasts while he was drunk during an industry event in 2011.
All four women asked to remain anonymous in the report out of fear of retaliation. Several additional sources accused Batali of other inappropriate behavior, such as sexual innuendo during conversations at work. In fact, B&B Hospitality Group reprimanded him for his behavior as recently as October.
Batali did not deny the accusations, according to Eater. He has already been removed from the company's restaurants and operations for an indefinite leave of absence, the company said. He's also taken a leave of absence from his role as co-host on ABC's The Chew.
“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt," he said in a statement, according to the report. "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."
"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 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."
He went on to state: "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. To the people who have been at my side during this time -- my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans -- I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that."
One of the women included in the report said she's thankful for the "cultural reckoning" taking place with regards to the sexual misconduct of powerful men. The accusations against Batali emerge after several weeks of near-daily revelations of similar allegations against prominent men -- from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, among many others.
Anthony Bourdain, who has been vocal in the collective discussions around sexual harassment, tweeted shortly after the news of the allegations came out, saying, "It's Batali. And it's bad." Another celebrity chef, Tom Colicchio, retweeted Bourdain and said, "And no one should be surprised."
Check out the full Eater report for more on the allegations.