Women detail Mario Batali’s alleged sexual misconduct in new doc

Mario Batali sips coffee at Eataly in New York in 2010. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Celebrity chef Mario Batali has long been known for the bright orange Crocs he once wore everywhere, and for the celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jimmy Fallon, who often flocked to his side. But to the employees who worked in 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-shuttered Spotted Pig restaurant in New York, in which Batali was the main investor. Discovery+’s new documentary, Batali: the fall of a superstar chef, which is available now. “We called it the Red Menace.”

Nelson is one of several former employees of Batali’s restaurants who alleges in the doc that the restaurateur, once behind dozens of venues, TV co-host chewing, the face of Eataly and, in effect, the creator of an entire food empire, had indulged in sexual misconduct over the years. They described instances in which he said sexually suggestive things to them or became – as one of his former restaurant partners Steve Crane put it, “touchy feely” – or worse.

Chef Mario Batali attends the 2009 film premiere afterparty

Chef Mario Batali attends the 2009 film premiere afterparty Fantastic Mr. Fox, in which he voiced a character, with co-stars Bill Murray, Meryl Streep and Willem Dafoe, and director Wes Anderson. (Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

They described a man with two distinct sides: one who was charming and gregarious and another who came out after drinking too much. This guy, who surfaced as the night wore on, was lewd and sleazy. Workers said they felt trapped and ignored because the restaurant industry was not equipped to deal with their reports of sexual misconduct.

Nelson, for example, recalled one night when she brought drinks to Batali’s table of seven. She could only carry six glasses, so she assured the seventh person that she would be right back with hers. In front of everyone, she says, Batali told her that if she sat on the man’s face, she would “come back again and again.” Other women said Batali grabbed their breasts or buttocks repeatedly.

Mario Batali attends an event hosted by Chrissy Teigen in October 2016 in New York City.  (Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

Mario Batali attends an event hosted by Chrissy Teigen in October 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

There were also fans, like Sharelle Klaus, the co-founder of Dry Soda Co., who alleged Batali touched them inappropriately during brief encounters.

“He asked me if I wanted a picture with him,” Klaus said. “And while they were taking the picture, he put his hands in my pants under my underwear and grabbed my butt.”

Eva DeVirgilis, a former hostess at Batali’s Babbo restaurant in New York, came out publicly as one of Batali’s accusers in the documentary. She told her story in an interview with 60 minutes in 2018, but his face was obscured then. Not this time.

DeVirgilis alleged that in 2005 she agreed to go with Batali to the Spotted Pig after her shift, expecting other people to go too. But her boss ended up picking her up in a limo and whisking her to a candlelit banquette, where she drank wine and passed out.

“And then I have a moment, a flash, where he kisses me really hard. And then I have another flash where I’m throwing up in the toilet. I feel like he’s behind me,” DeVirgilis said. “And then there was nothing. And then I woke up… on a floor, parquet. I had no idea where I was.”

Immediately, DeVirgilis said, she thought she had been drugged, as she usually didn’t end up sick or passed out while drinking. She also said she found scratches on the inside of her legs and something that could have been semen on her skirt. So she went to Mount Sinai Hospital and had a rape kit prepared, but refused to go to the police, as she feared she might not get a job in the industry if she told her story. She said goodbye and left Babbo.

Batali issued a controversial apology for his past behavior in December 2017, when Eater released four women’s charges against him, but he also denied all allegations of sexual assault. He declined to be part of the new Discovery+ documentary and Yahoo could not reach him for comment.

But Batali: the fall of a superstar chef explains that he was only part of the problem in an industry that has long allowed a lot of bad behavior to go unchecked. Like several journalists who covered Batali’s alleged sexual misconduct – Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, of New York Timesand freelancer Irene Plagianos, who wrote about the celebrity chef for Eater – explained in the documentary their reporting on him came in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement.

After their reports were published in 2017, the Batali Accords disappeared.

Mario Batali leaves a Boston courtroom on May 24, 2019, following his arraignment on charges of indecent assault and assault.  (Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Mario Batali leaves a Boston courtroom on May 24, 2019, following his arraignment on charges of indecent assault and assault. (Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Letitia James eventually investigated the Spotted Pig and Batali’s co-owned restaurant group, where she found wrongdoing. Although Batali has not been charged with a felony in New York, he was charged with indecent assault and battery in Boston for grabbing and forcibly kissing Natali Tene at a local bar in 2017.

“I’ve never been touched like this before,” Tene had testified, “like squeezing me between my legs, squeezing my vagina to get closer to him, like it was a normal way to grab someone.”

The judge found that Tene had “significant credibility issues”, due to the text messages she sent about the meeting with Batali and due to her behavior 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 fall of a superstar chef is currently airing on Discovery+.

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