Mario Batali’s own restaurant group has decided to end its partnership with him, after allegations of sexual misconduct against the celebrity chef led to a police investigation.
Women who worked at restaurants associated with Batali told CNN that inappropriate behavior was commonplace.
Anderson Cooper, reporting for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” first sat down with several of the women in a segment that aired on Sunday.
The NYPD confirmed to CNN that it “is investigating allegations raised in the ’60 Minutes’ report.” Investigators have spoken with about a half dozen women, an NYPD source says.
One accuser told CNN that authorities questioned her in February, indicating that an investigation has been going on for months.
Batali released a statement to CNN later Monday: “I vehemently deny any allegations of sexual assault. My past behavior has been deeply inappropriate and I am sincerely remorseful for my actions.”
A spokeswoman with the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, in which Batali is part owner, told CNN in a written statement that the company has been “actively negotiating with Mr. Batali to buy his interests in the restaurants.” The group said it hopes to reach an agreement by July 1.
The group’s restaurants include Babbo, OTTO Enoteca e Pizzeria and La Sirena.
The company said it has taken steps in the last six months to separate Batali from the business, and he was removed from operations starting in December.
“We have worked for years with Mr. Batali to bring true, innovative, Italian cuisine to our guests,” the statement read. “He has been our partner and our close friend, but the actions he has acknowledged require us to separate wholly so that we reinforce our core values for our employees and our guests.”
Jamie Seet, 38, says in 2006 she started as an oyster shucker at The Spotted Pig, a restaurant that spent a decade boasting a prestigious Michelin Star rating. She worked her way up to becoming a general manager there in 2010, and held that position for three years.
She remembers one incident where she says Batali, who was one of the restaurant’s investors and a frequent dinner guest, grabbed her breasts, sometime between 2008 and 2010, when she was serving him and a table of VIPs.
“I was giving him some drinks, and, as I put them down, he grabbed both of them,” Seet told CNN. “I pulled away and was speechless.”
Seet says she immediately told her boss, The Spotted Pig co-owner Ken Friedman, who she says told her, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just Mario. You’re a pretty girl.”
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for The Spotted Pig said, “After Ken Friedman was informed by employees of their being uncomfortable with Mario’s behavior many years ago, Mario was told he could no longer hold parties at the restaurant.”
But Seet told CNN that after she reported that incident to Friedman, Batali continued to throw parties at the restaurant, and continued to act inappropriately toward employees.
Multiple former employees, in interviews with “60 Minutes” and CNN, made accusations of inappropriate behavior by Friedman, too.
Another former employee, Trish Nelson, told CNN about one alleged interaction with Friedman when she worked at The Spotted Pig, between 2006 and 2007. She said she was crouched down, stacking glassware.
“He pulled my head towards his crotch and said, ‘While you’re down there … ‘” Nelson said, insinuating that she should perform oral sex on him. “Those kinds of humiliating events took place on a regular basis.”
A source close to Friedman said that he is apologetic for any inappropriate conduct. Friedman’s recollection of the event differs from Nelson’s, the source said.
Efforts by CNN to contact Friedman directly were unsuccessful. In a statement published by CBS in response to the “60 Minutes” report, Friedman said in part, “over the past several months I have focused… on my own personal decisions and my mistakes for which I have apologized.”
In 2006, Nelson says, she waited on Batali “almost every night” for about a year. She said he made crude comments to her in front of celebrity customers. And that he created a “constantly sexually aggressive environment.”
“He asked to touch my boobs – he told me I had beautiful boobs and he wanted to wrestle with me,” she said.
Nelson grew emotional as she recounted that, since speaking publicly, she has been inundated with messages from women she has never met, thanking her for exposing a systemic problem in the restaurant industry.
“I have been groped … I have been humiliated. And that was just a part of the job. This is not acceptable behavior,” Nelson said. “Even though my contributions are less than what Mario Batali has contributed, it doesn’t mean that I don’t matter.”
Another former employee spoke anonymously about a night she spent with Batali when she believes she might have been drugged and told Cooper, “something very wrong happened to me.”
The woman said she woke up with injuries but did not think she had been raped. She said she went to authorities but declined to file a report.
Batali issued a statement to “60 Minutes” with regard to that woman’s claim, saying, “I vehemently deny the allegation that I sexually assaulted this woman.”
Batali declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes.”
Stepping away from his public life
Since these allegations have surfaced, the once very public chef – known for wearing fleece vests and orange Crocs – has disappeared out of the public eye, even deleting his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
In a statement to CNN after Cooper’s “60 Minutes” report, Batali spoke about his plans.
“I am not attempting a professional comeback,” Batali’s statement said. “My only focus is finding a personal path forward where I can continue in my charitable endeavors - helping the underprivileged and those in need.”
Allegations against Batali first surfaced in December 2017, after the restaurant news website Eater reported on four accounts of women who claimed that Batali “touched them inappropriately in a pattern of behavior that appears to span at least two decades.”
That report prompted a statement from Batali to CNNMoney, in which he said he took full responsibility and is “deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.”
“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt,” Batali said in the statement. “That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses.”
Batali also stepped away from his gig co-hosting ABC’s “The Chew” in December, an ABC spokesperson confirmed in December. And Food Network, which aired Batali’s show “Molto Mario” from 1996 to 2004, told CNN in December that it was shelving plans to bring back the program.