The double life of Mario Batali

Mario Batali was one of the most popular celebrities around. He's round and likable, his hair matches his signature Crocs, and he can make a mean pot of ragu. Unfortunately, there's another side to Batali that a lot of the world didn't know about … until recently. 

As one of New York City's most renowned restauranteurs, Batali wielded considerable power in the hospitality industry. With that power came an allegedly scary amount of abuse, according some former employees of the superstar chef. Accusations of everything from tip theft, to violent behavior from his security staff, to sexual assault have sent Batali crashing back to earth from his once seemingly untouchable status as a beloved personality in the stratosphere of high-end eateries. 

Let's try to find the truth behind this towering figure of fine dining as we explore the double life of Mario Batali. 

He boasted of having an all-female kitchen...

In October 2017, Batali bragged at Fast Company's Innovation Festival that his fanciest restaurant, Del Posto, had a kitchen comprised entirely of female chefs.

"I think back in the stone ages — say the beginning or the middle of the 20th century — it was perceived as physically difficult for a woman to do the job and that was back when cooking was still iron and fire and Cro-Magnon man, and it has changed a lot since the '60s and '70s," Batali said (via Page Six). "It's not because they have a vagina. It's because they're the smartest people for the job … It wasn't like we were actively trying to make this an all-woman kitchen or an all-woman staff, it just turns out they were better than everyone else that was up for the job."

...then Batali was accused of sexual misconduct

In December 2017, Batali was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by five women. Four of the women worked for Batali when they allege that he groped and touched them inappropriately, while a fifth said Batali also groped her, but not until after she was no longer an employee of any of his businesses.

Batali didn't deny the allegations, telling Eater in a statement, "I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. … much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. … To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that."

Batali took leave from his restaurants, as well as ABC's The Chew, to deal with the aftermath of the allegations, however, by April 2018, he was reportedly already mulling "his second act," according to The New York Times. As of this writing, Batali still hasn't returned to the spotlight in any meaningful way. In fact, he's since relocated from New York City to northern Michigan, but the damning accusations of sexual misconduct followed him.  

He was accused of sexual assault

A former manager of New York restaurant Spotted Pig told The New York Times in December 2017 that Batali was caught on camera allegedly drunkenly kissing and groping a woman who appeared to be unconscious in a private room at the restaurant. "We used to call [Batali] the Red Menace," former staffer Trish Nelson said. "He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend's face." 

Batali told The New York Times, "Though I don't remember these specific accounts, 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."

Six months later — and just one month after Batali openly pondered his comeback — another accuser came forward to 60 Minutes, claiming Batali drugged and raped her at The Spotted Pig in 2005. The employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said she declined to file charges against Batali, because as "a young actress" with "no resources" and "no money," she "couldn't do it." In response to the allegation, Batali said in a statement, "I vehemently deny the allegation that I sexually assaulted this woman."

Case closed

After the allegations raised in both the aforementioned Eater article and 60 Minutes story, the NYPD opened two investigations into Batali's behavior, however only one of them was still "within the statute of limitations," according to CNN. Neither investigation resulted in charges against Batali, as the outlet reported in early January 2019 that "the NYPD was not able to develop probable cause in either of the two cases." As a result, at the time of this writing, there are no open criminal cases pending against Batali — at least in New York City, where all of his accusers claim the harassment and assaults occurred.

In response to the news of Batali's cases being closed, former employee and accuster Trish Nelson told CNN, "I know for a fact that there are other sexual assault victims out there. In order for them to muster the strength to come forward, they desperately need these witnesses and industry leaders to gather their integrity and finally step up to the plate."

Batali, who was last tracked down in northern Michigan about a month before the cases were closed, declined to be interviewed, because he's "not going to live [his] life in public anymore." Instead simply told the inquiring New York Magazine writer, "I'm a lucky man," before adding, "Well, it's been a bad year."   

He once said a 'reckoning' was coming for sexual harassers in the restaurant industry

Fox News reported that in May 2017, Batali predicted a rash of sexual harassment allegations would come forward in the restaurant industry — but never said that they'd be against him.

"I think the reckoning is coming across the board. It is a time for women and men to face each other across the board, across the table," Batali said at a conference in October. "These are all things that are so far behind us in the evolutionary phase of where we are right now. The industry is changing a lot, and people are trying to do the right thing, and it's still slow to come … It took a long time for those dinosaurs to go extinct, and it's going to be that way. And what you can do is push forward and do the right thing in your own place."

He pals around with a lot of stars...

Batali is friendly with a lot of celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Johnny Manziel, and he even did an amazingly good deed for comedian Jim Gaffigan for the comic's wedding anniversary in July 2017 with wife Jeannie, who was recovering from brain cancer.

"I emailed Mario asking him to help me find a place for our 14th wedding anniversary. I was trying to find a nice place for us to celebrate but given Jeannie cannot comfortably eat solids I was hoping to find a place that did amazing soups (yes, in July)," Gaffigan wrote on Instagram. "I knew Mario was on vacation but I hoped he could point me in the right direction. Mario responded insisting that we come to @delposto and that he would make sure we were well taken care of. When we arrived we saw that Mario had created a custom tasting menu of various gourmet soups with accompanying wines or cocktails. Of course, the whole experience was insanely amazing but the generosity of kindness and compassion by Mario was most moving."

...but no celebrity chefs have defended him

Though Batali has a lot of celebrity pals, other celebrity chefs haven't been so quick to defend him in light of the allegations of sexual misconduct. Anthony Bourdain tweeted that he'd been aware of the allegations against Batali for some time, but that the stories of misconduct were the victims' to tell, not his own. 

Boston chef Tiffani Faison wrote, "I cannot believe we are in a true watershed moment when NOT ONE MAN has gotten ahead of allegations. They all know what they did and are just hoping their number doesn't come up. That is the opposite of integrity." 

Batali's friend, Momofuku chef and founder David Chang, told Eater, "First and foremost, the victims are most important and they need our support. Our industry is broken, and we must all work towards being better. Batali is a long-time friend who has supported me throughout my career. While I'm personally saddened by the news, there is just no way to condone or justify these actions. These reports underscore the urgent need to change the culture of our kitchens and workplaces."

He bragged about how much his waiters could earn ...

In May 2017, Batali boasted to LinkedIn that waiters at his restaurants can make a mint in tips, which is why he generally opposes ending tipped wages for restaurant staffers.

"It makes a lot of sense to equitably distribute all of the restaurant's resources to all of the staff members, but keep in mind at a restaurant like Babbo or Del Posto, waiters who can work four days or five days a week can make $140,000 or $130,000," he said. "There is no cook who will make that. And to redistribute that right now, in the middle of a time when the minimum wage is gonna go to $15, which means the waiters are all gonna make $15 even if they're tipped, is a hard thing for us to figure out."

He added, "We don't have the answer. We are more really worried about the sustainability of the operation. We're just trying to figure out what it's gonna be. And it's basically a blinking game. Everyone's looking at everybody. Waiting for some really smart person to come up with the answer. But we have not figured it out so we are, at this point, paying waiters that we used to pay $5 an hour, $12 an hour. And we're still holding the ground and allowing the tips to be distributed as it is because we just can't figure out how to take that away."

... but he was sued for allegedly garnishing their tips

For all of Batali's bragging about his wait staff's wages, those same waiters had to work extra hard to take that pay home just a few years earlier. In July 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that two Babbo employees sued Batali and his business partners over unpaid wages, accusing Batali and his Babbo staff of depriving them of tips. The suit accused Babbo management of subtracting 4.5 percent of its nightly wine sales from the tip pool, which would decrease wait staff's tipped wages, and also alleged that the restaurant paid workers the wrong minimum wage and didn't pay adequate, state-mandated overtime.

Those two plaintiffs soon ballooned to 117 plaintiffs, as the suit took on a class action status. By March 2012, Batali and his partners settled the suit for $5.25 million.

He was sued by a neighbor for loud noise and foul odors

In November 2014, a man who lived next door to one of Batali's eateries, Babbo in Greenwich Village, New York, sued Batali for a cool $10 million, The New York Post reported. In court documents, Nurettin Akgul claimed he wouldn't oppose Batali's variance application (a document from local residents approving opening a restaurant in a residential neighborhood), but only if Batali agreed to pay $26,000 in legal fees, as well as to soundproof his property. In February 2015, a judge sided with Batali, noting that many of Akgul's complaints, including an allegation that Batali's eatery had an illegal number of air conditioning condensers on the roof that violated the noise code, couldn't actually be confirmed as fact.

He shaded Johnny Manziel, then took it back

In March 2016, Page Six reported that Batali was at Tao Las Vegas at the same time as troubled former NFL star Johnny Manziel. Early in the evening, Batali reportedly referred to Manziel and his comrades as "douchebags." Hours later, though, Batali posted a selfie with Manziel, writing, "Turns out Manziel is actually pretty cool!"

His staff may have assaulted Yoko Ono's publicist

Yoko Ono's publicist, Kip Khouri, sued Eataly restaurant (a popular NYC food emporium in which Batali used to own a stake) after security guards at the eatery allegedly roughed him up and threw him out of a window, Page Six reported. Khouri claimed that 10 guards used homophobic slurs against him and "violently assaulted" him in August 2014. 

Batali's reps denied the claim, saying Khouri was both intoxicated and belligerent and posed a danger to himself and others. No charges were filed, although Khouri reportedly "filed a report for harassment," according to police sources. 

He shaded Ben Affleck to Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow revealed to Vanity Fair in July 2016 that Batali, who was her close friend for almost 20 years, had strong opinions about the men she dated. "He was just teasing me about every boyfriend I brought to [Batali's restaurant] Babbo over the years," Paltrow said. "He liked Brad Pitt, if you want to know. Didn't like Ben Affleck that much."

As Nicki Swift previously reported, Affleck, who dated Paltrow from 1997 to 2000, had to apologize in fall 2017 for groping One Tree Hill star Hilarie Burton back in 2003 and was accused of groping other women as recently as 2014 … so maybe Batali was onto something.