Celebrity chef Mario Batali has long been known for the bright orange Crocs he once wore everywhere and for the celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jimmy Fallon who often flocked to his side. But to the employees who worked at his restaurant empire, he was known for something else.
“He would hug you or kiss you or put his hands around your waist … or touch your hips,” says Trish Nelson, a former waitress at the now-defunct New York City restaurant Spotted Pig, in which Batali was the lead investor in Discovery+’s new documentary, Batali: The case of a superstar chef, which is available now. “We called him the Red Menace.”
Nelson is one of several former Batalis restaurant employees who claim in the document that the restaurateur, who was once behind dozens of venues, was a television co-host The chew toy, the face of Eataly and actually the creator of an entire food empire, had engaged in sexual misconduct over the years. They described instances where he had said sexually suggestive things to them or—as one of his former restaurant partners, Steve Crane, put it—became “sensitive”—or worse.
They described a man with two distinct sides: one that was charming and sociable, and another that came out after drinking too much. This guy who showed up during the night was raunchy and shabby. Workers said they felt trapped and unheard because the restaurant industry was not equipped to deal with their reports of sexual misconduct.
For example, Nelson recalled one evening when she brought drinks to Batali’s table of seven guests. She could only carry six drinks, so she assured the seventh person that she’d be right back with his. In front of everyone, she said, Batali told her that if she sat on the man’s face, she would “keep coming back.” Other women said Batali grabbed her chest or butt several times.
There were also fans like Sharelle Klaus, the co-founder of Dry Soda Co., who claimed Batali touched her inappropriately during brief encounters.
“He asked me if I wanted a picture with him,” Klaus said. “And when they took the picture, he reached into my pants under my underwear with his hands and grabbed my ass.”
Eva DeVirgilis, a former host at Batali’s New York restaurant Babbo, publicly identified herself as one of Batali’s accusers in the documentary. She tells her story in an interview 60 minutes in 2018, but her face was covered up at the time. Not this time.
DeVirgilis claimed that in 2005 she agreed to go to the Spotted Pig with Batali after her shift with the expectation that other people would go too. But her boss eventually picked her up in a limousine and took her to a candlelit banquet, where she drank wine and passed out.
“And then I have a moment, a flash, where I’m kissed very, like, hard by him. And then I have another flash where I throw up in a toilet. I feel he’s behind me,” DeVirgilis said. “And then there was nothing. And then I woke up…on a floor, hardwood floor. I had no idea where I was.”
Immediately, DeVirgilis said, she thought she was drugged because she didn’t usually get sick or pass out while drinking. She also said she found scratches on the insides of her legs and what could have been semen on her skirt. So she went to Mount Sinai Hospital and had a rape kit made, but declined to go to the police because she was concerned that she might get a job in the industry if she told her story. She resigned and left Babbo.
Batali controversially apologized for past behavior in December 2017 when Eater released four allegations by women against him, but he has also denied all allegations of sexual assault. He declined to be part of Discovery+’s new documentary and Yahoo was unable to reach him for comment.
but Batali: The case of a superstar chef explains that he was only part of the problem in an industry where bad behavior has long gone unchecked by many. Like several journalists who reported on Batali’s alleged sexual misconduct – Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, the New York Timesand freelancer Irene Plagianos, who wrote about the celebrity chef for Eater – explained in the documentary her coverage of him came in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement.
After her reports surfaced in 2017, Batali’s deals disappeared.
New York Attorney General Letitia James eventually investigated the Spotted Pig and the restaurant group that Batali co-owns, where she found wrongdoing. While Batali has not been charged with a felony in New York, he has been charged with indecent assault and assault in Boston for violently grabbing and kissing Natali Tene at a local bar in 2017.
“I’ve never been touched like this before,” Tene had testified, “like squeezing between my legs, squeezing my vagina to pull me closer to him, like that was a normal way of grabbing someone.” .”
The judge found that Tene had “significant credibility issues” based on text messages she sent about encountering Batali and her conduct as a juror in another case, and Batali was found not guilty in May.
He has also settled several civil lawsuits related to sexual misconduct in recent years.
Batali: The case of a superstar chef is currently streaming on Discovery+.