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“I just stepped back from him in utter disgust”: 4 women accuse chef Mario Batali of sexual misconduct

But the celebrity chef’s misconduct, revealed by an Eater investigation, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harassment in the restaurant industry.

Mario Batali
Celebrity chef Mario Batali announced Monday that he would take a leave from his businesses after food and dining website Eater published a report detailing the chef’s alleged history of sexual misconduct.
Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Celebrity chef Mario Batali is stepping away from his restaurant business after a report detailing his alleged sexual misconduct toward female employees and other women in his industry was published on Monday. Batali’s reported behavior is just one data point in an industry where a majority of women workers say they’ve experienced sexual harassment from bosses, co-workers, and even customers.

Four women allege that Batali touched them inappropriately, reflecting “a pattern of behavior that appears to span at least two decades,” journalists Irene Plagianos and Kitty Greenwald reported for Eater (which is owned by the same company as Vox.com). In some instances, the harassment occurred during work. Three women previously worked for Batali (although one notes that she was no longer employed by the chef when he grabbed her breasts during a party). A fourth woman, a chef who never worked for Batali, also alleges that he groped her breasts during a party 10 years ago.

Batali was “just giving me this provocative, icky feeling,” the woman, at the time in her mid-20s, says of the incident, which started as a conversation between her Batali. But things escalated after a drink was spilled on her:

Minutes into their conversation, she recalls, he told her, “Come work for me, I’ll pay you double what you’re making.” Moments later, someone bumped her glass, spilling wine all over her chest and down her scooped-neck shirt. She alleges that Batali began rubbing her breasts with his bare hands while saying something like, “Let me help you with that,” as he groped her chest. “He just went to town, and I was so shocked,” the chef says. “Jaw on the ground, I just stepped back from him in utter disgust and walked away.”

According to Eater, Batali was reprimanded for inappropriate workplace behavior after an employee of his restaurant group filed a formal complaint in October 2017. A spokesperson for the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group told Eater that the chef was “reprimanded and required to undergo company training” after the complaint was made.

The Eater report notes that Batali, a popular chef, restaurant owner, cookbook author, and television personality, has been associated with sexual misconduct allegations for years. Steven Crane, who co-owned a restaurant with Batali years ago, recalls that several female staffers complained to him about Batali, saying that the chef “had grabbed them from behind, consistently made a variety of sexual comments, and engaged in behavior like snapping bra straps.”

But many of these women asked Crane to avoid raising their complaints with Batali due to fears of retaliation. “He has clear intent on being threatening when he is wronged,” one woman, who says she was touched inappropriately by Batali while working for him in the ’90s, told Eater. “And the level of vindictiveness is very chilling.”

Batali did not deny all of the allegations made in the Eater report, telling Eater that some of the allegations “match up” with his actions in the past. Batali did not specify which allegations fit with his memory. Batali’s record was further explored Tuesday in a Washington Post article naming two of the previous unnamed women, and adding other details as well as another statement apologizing for his behavior at the party.

The report about Batali comes as a reckoning continues to sweep through industries across the country, with women and men coming forward with stories of facing harassment and assault at the hands of powerful figures in their workplaces and fields.

Stories detailing the misconduct of chefs like Batali may just scratch the surface of harassment in the restaurant industry. According to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a group which organizes restaurant workers, 60 percent of women in the industry have experienced sexual harassment. A November Washington Post report on sexual harassment in restaurants notes that due to the ego-fueled “boys club” atmosphere of many restaurants, “women are vulnerable in just about every inch of a restaurant. Behind the bar. The hostess stands where patrons are greeted. Behind stoves and in front of dishwashers. From lewd comments to rape, sexual misconduct is, for many, simply part of the job.”

But while harassment itself is ubiquitous, how it manifests in the workplace can differ depending on the relative standing a woman has in the restaurant hierarchy. Women doing low-level work like serving customers or cleaning, for example, may be even more susceptible, especially for those that are women of color, immigrants, or are very young.

A recently published chart from the Center for American Progress finds that those doing low-wage work report some of the highest levels of harassment in the workplace. The chart notes that the accommodation and food services industry, a grouping which includes restaurants and other hospitality establishments, accounted for roughly 14 percent of sexual harassment claims filed to the EEOC between 2005 and 2015.