TV celebrity chef Johnny Iuzzini has been accused of sexual harassment by four women who worked with him while he was at Jean-Georges — with women saying that the fine dining restaurant’s pastry department was rife with bad behavior under his leadership.
Four women tell Mic that Iuzzini allegedly repeatedly harassed women between 2009 and 2011, including putting his tongue in people’s ears, simulating sex, and demanding shoulder massages.
Iuzzini said in a statement to Mic that he was “shattered and heartbroken” about the allegations, but he denied several of them. Management at Jean-Georges allegedly knew about the behavior by the time the chef left the restaurant, though his departure was painted as friendly. The restaurant told Mic in a statement that they train staff to go to HR with issues.
Update: In an email statement to Eater NY, Jean-George’s press coordinator wrote that “the entire restaurant group is troubled and frankly sickened at the thought that anything like what was described in the article could have occurred in our restaurants” and that “it is not and has never been our policy to tolerate the type of behavior described in the article.”
The acclaimed pastry chef worked at the Upper West Side institution for nearly 10 years, leaving in 2011 and primarily pursuing entertainment. But his time there — when he managed an approximate 10-person staff of mostly women — was allegedly colored by repeated harassment.
The women, who were not named, accused him of suggestively touching staffer’s behinds with kitchen tools and grabbing one female employee’s hips to simulate sex. He allegedly also demanded shoulder massages, frequently cracked vulgar jokes, and called people offensive nicknames, like “Kimchi” for an Asian woman.
Besides sexual harassment, the women accused him of violent behavior — including verbal abuse and throwing a nitrogen canister at a staffer. Iuzzini denied the nitrogen canister incident. In a statement, the pastry chef blamed an era of unprofessional, female-free kitchens for his vulgar jokes and bad temper:
I began working in kitchens when I was 15 years old, back in a time when it was rare to see women in the kitchen, and behavior was more bawdy than professional. There were dirty jokes and vulgar remarks, times where people would lose their tempers and it was deemed permissible since four-star kitchens are high-stress jobs. This was the behavior I learned as a boy, and for too many years participated in during my restaurant career. And it was wrong.
While working in New York kitchens, Iuizzini was considered one of the best pastry chefs in the city. In 2006, he was awarded a James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef. By 2011, he’d capitalized on the fame with cookbook deals and airtime on Top Chef, and since then, he hasn’t worked at restaurants in New York. More recently, he’s been a judge on the American spinoff of Great British Bake Off.
Jean-Georges is still considered one of the finest dining restaurants in the world, the flagship of famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a place that has graduated chefs like Dan Kluger.
Vongerichten’s brother Philippe was at the restaurant when Iuzzini worked there, and he is still the director of operations. Philippe Vongerichten allegedly approached at least one of the women to see if she wanted to file a formal complaint. But at least one pastry chef who worked for Iuzzini quit the restaurant before reporting incidents. “I left because of the way he treated me,” she says.