Mario Batali Accused of Groping by Two Former Employees
The celebrity chef has stepped away from his businesses and his position as co-host on ABC's 'The Chew.'
Following an Eater exposé published Monday in which Mario Batali was accused of sexual harassment by several women, the celebrity chef is now being accused of sexual assault in a new report from The Washington Post.
According to the Post report, Batali's Los Angeles restaurant, Osteria Mozza, was the location of a private dinner party for advertisers in 2010 hosted by Vanity Fair publisher Edward Menicheschi, with Batali himself the main attraction of the evening. Mozza's special events director, Holly Gunderson, was in charge of running the event, to which she claimed Batali showed up drunk. According to Ben Peryer, Vanity Fair's merchandising assistant at the time, Batali had been drinking for hours before the event.
While escorting Batali to his guests, Gunderson claims the chef “looked me up and down and he said, you know, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘I want to see you naked in my hot tub back in the hotel.'”
After that incident, Gunderson attempted to avoid Batali for the rest of the evening, but later that night she claims the chef put his hand "between my legs, up and under, so his hand went on my vagina outside of my clothes" and "moved his hand backward ... under my butt." He then continued moving on.
Gunderson claims she did not do anything directly after Batali groped her because she was in shock. She also claims that no one around her at the time seemed to notice.
Later in the evening, as Batali was leaving the party, Melanie Altarescu, associate director of integrated marketing for Vanity Fair at the time, claims Batali told her to get in his car and that "we're going to make out." When she declined, Batali grabbed her by the arm from the car's window and said, "You’re making a big mistake. You should get in the car and we should make out.” Altarescu broke from his grip and Batali drove off.
In addition to the Vanity Fair dinner, the Post also reported other alleged incidents of harassment by Batali, including an anonymous woman and former employee of Batali's New York City restaurant Babbo, who claims the chef "walked by me, he grabbed my ass hard, squeezed, and kept [walking] and didn’t say anything." When she confronted Batali about the incident, she says he responded, "What are you, a lesbian?" A second incident occurred with the same woman when she and Batali were both in a confined space. She asked the chef to move so she could exit, to which he answered that she would have to climb over him, which she did, requiring her to straddle him as he blocked her path.
Another incident described in the new report occurred at the Spotted Pig in New York City, a favorite spot of Batali's in which he had an ownership stake. One night in 2004, while visiting the establishment with DJ Fatboy Slim, also a part owner, Batali allegedly had an employee fetch cigarettes, intentionally dropped them, and then grabbed the woman's undergarments and yanked upwards.
Since the initial Eater report, Batali has apologized and announced that he would be stepping away from the day-to-day affairs of his businesses. ABC also announced that Batali would be stepping away as co-host of daytime talk show The Chew while it reviews the accusations, and Food Network put plans to revive his Molto Mario series in 2018 on hold. On Tuesday, it was confirmed that Eataly, which Batali owns along with partners Joe Bastianich and his celebrity chef mother Lidia Bastianich, had removed Batali's products from its shelves.
“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt,” Batali said in a statement to the Post about each of the allegations. “Though I don’t remember this specific account, there is no question I have behaved terribly. There are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused.”
A spokesperson for B&B Hospitality Group, which owns Osteria Mozza, issued the following statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “These accounts are appalling. The company has had systematic policies and training about sexual harassment for over 10 years, including procedures to report complaints to senior management, to try to protect our employees. Mr. Batali is no longer involved in operations, and he has agreed to stay away from the restaurants. The company is reinforcing for our employees that everyone deserves respect and a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. In light of these reports, we are continuing to assess our practices to make sure we have the best policies in place to offer our employees that environment.”