For years, Natali Tene considered herself a fan of Mario Batali. “I grew up watching him on TV; I used to imagine that I’d be a guest on Molto Mario, having him cook for me,” said the 28-year-old, who lives in Boston. “I just loved him.” When news broke in December that Batali was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, she says that she felt great anger toward him — but also a sense of relief.
In April of last year, Tene said, Batali allegedly groped her at Towne Stove and Spirits, a Boston bar next to the city’s Eataly. She claims that Batali, who seemed intoxicated, suggested they take selfies together, then rubbed her breasts, grabbed her backside, put his hands between her legs, and kept squeezing her face into his as he kissed her. The resulting photos, which she provided to Eater, were “shockingly uncomfortable,” she said. A friend who was there with her said he witnessed Batali being “handsy.”
“I was just in total disbelief when he touched me like that; I couldn’t believe it when it was happening,” Tene said. “In the moment it was just so crazy, it was humiliating. The more I thought about it later, the angrier I got. But I thought maybe I was alone, maybe it was an isolated incident. When I saw the news, I had this feeling like, ‘Yes, he’s being exposed as a creep’ — but also sadness and lots of anger that he got away with this behavior for so long.”
Last week, the wide-ranging sexual misconduct allegations against celebrity chef Batali — which span more than two decades and include grabbing, unwanted touching, and abusive, sexualized language — reached a new level: NYPD confirmed that it is investigating Batali for two separate sexual assault accusations, both strikingly similar. (He has denied these allegations.) It means Batali could ultimately face criminal consequences for alleged misconduct — not just personal or business ones, like his firing from The Chew and being pushed out of close to two dozen restaurants and other businesses.
Since Batali’s alleged sexual misconduct became public last December — and word spread about his attempted comeback this April — more women, like Tene, have come forward to Eater to share their experiences with Batali. These new allegations bring the number of women accusing Batali of sexual misconduct — who’ve spoken to Eater, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and 60 Minutes, and who have posted publicly on Twitter — to at least 18. Though Batali has said that many of the accusations “match up” with his behavior, he has denied the allegations of nonconsensual sex.
The additional incidents shared with Eater did not escalate to the rape allegations currently being investigated by police, but together, they paint a broader picture of the chef’s alleged misconduct, behavior that started at least as early as the mid-’90s and continued until as recently October 2017. Unlike most of the previously reported incidents, many of the new alleged victims who spoke with Eater did not work with Batali; instead, like Tene, they were strangers — fans or people in the restaurant industry who respected or adored him. Each of these women alleges that his inappropriate touching — including rubbing breasts, grabbing behinds, and forced, open mouthed kisses — occurred either at a bar or industry event, and in most cases shortly after, or while, they posed for photos with him. “I’ve just felt sick since the new allegations,” Sara Watson, a former Batali fan who happened to encounter him in a bar in 2016, told Eater. “I was left feeling disgusted, and shocked — but now I see his actions in a different way, as more dangerous.”
Additionally, other alleged victims, who worked for Batali, described new accounts of his behavior, including his reputation in one of his restaurants as a “serial crotch grazer,” a move where he would allegedly caress the back of his hand against a woman’s crotch.
For Jenny McCoy, an esteemed pastry chef and cookbook author, the severe allegations leveled against Batali — coupled with reports of his plans for a comeback and an earlier apology to fans with a pizza-dough cinnamon roll recipe attached — have so “enraged” her that she now wants to put her name on the record. McCoy was one of four anonymous women that accused Batali of groping in Eater’s December story. As she previously described, soon after meeting Batali, a chef she had long admired, at an event in New Orleans in 2007, he vigorously rubbed her breasts when wine was spilled on her chest.
She hopes that women will continue to come forward, to be more vocal about men who abuse and harass them, she said. “These men, men like Batali, who are powerful and delusional, won’t back down, obviously,” she said. “So we need to keep using our voices, women and men, to make a real change, a real cultural shift — and no longer tolerate this behavior.”
Eater is choosing to publish clips of two of these encounters, with the permission of the women in them. We realize the clips may be disturbing to readers, but the reporting around these issues can often seem abstracted; the women have agreed to make them public to offer a fuller view into what they experienced.
In a statement, Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group reiterated that it will finalize Batali’s divestment from the restaurants by July 1 and that the chef has not been involved since December. The company also reiterated that it has had sexual harassment policies for more than 10 years, adding that it took an additional step following allegations by hiring an outside investigations firm. Batali declined to comment for this story.
Tene said that before she happened to meet Batali in April 2017, he was her favorite celebrity chef. She couldn’t believe that he was just a few seats away from her at a bar that she regularly visits with friends. Excited, but too nervous to approach him, she just snapped a photo of him on her iPhone from afar.
Batali noticed her taking the picture and called her over, Tene alleges. “Then, I felt really nervous because I thought he was going to be very angry about me taking the photo,” she said. “I walked over apologetic, saying that I would delete the photo, I was just a fan — but he just quickly asked to see it and said, ‘Let’s take selfies,’ so I was like, ‘Oh, great!’”
But moments later, her excitement turned into shock and discomfort, she said. “He was just so drunk, and I’m, like, trying to smile for these pictures, and he’s pushing my face into his, kissing me, rubbing my breasts, my body and saying, ‘One more pic, one more.’ It all happened so fast, in the moment I was just like, ‘What is going on, this is so pervy — is this how you treat your fans?’” When she put a stop to the photo session, Batali allegedly told her that he was in town visiting Eataly and asked her if she wanted to join him at his hotel, she said. “I just ended the conversation as quickly as possible and left,” she said.
“At the time, it was all so shocking, it just felt crazy, I just wanted it to be over,” she said. “But I just kept getting angrier about it — why would you humiliate a fan?” Now, she feels “heartbroken,” she said. “I feel heartbroken for these other women, I feel disgust. I feel like what he did to me wasn’t one drunken mistake; I feel like he was a predator.”
In Watson’s case, she spotted Batali at a bar near her home in New Orleans in January 2016. “I feel like he literally treated me like a piece of food,” Watson, now 31, said. “He put his tongue in my ear, he licked my face, he grabbed me, touched me all over.”
Earlier in the evening, she’d been at the Link Stryjewski Foundation’s flagship nonprofit event Bal Masque that Batali had catered, but she didn’t expect to see him at her local dive bar, the Saint, hours later, she said. Watson, a self-described food lover who said she “admired” Batali and was thrilled to get the chance to try his food at the event, decided to ask for a photo. But the encounter quickly devolved from there, she said. Within moments he was touching her, allegedly made a comment about wanting to give her oral sex, tongued her face and ear, and put his hands “all over my butt, thighs, the whole vaginal area,” she said, before she could push him off and walk away, stunned and horrified.
“I had never had anyone do something like that to me — it was appalling, he had no shame,” Watson said. “He was obviously drunk, but I don’t think that’s an excuse.” Her boyfriend, who was at the bar that night, confirmed Watson’s account; she also showed Eater the resulting photograph.
”When someone does something as gross as Batali did, you’ll never forget it, but what are you going to do? You kind of chalk it up to one terrible night and move on,” Watson said. “But to think about about the trauma other women must be dealing with, and to think about the way he acted as part of a bigger and terrible pattern, this brazen doing whatever he wanted for decades, it’s just devastating.”
The following year, in January 2017, Rebecca Marshall met Batali at an event for the Link Stryjewski Foundation, just like the one that Watson had attended. Following a photo op, Batali also crossed the line with Marshall physically, she alleges. Marshall, a 60-year-old woman who’s worked in restaurants on and off since 1978, didn’t know him personally, but he was “someone I looked up to,” she said — frequently visiting restaurants like Babbo and Otto, watching him on TV, and using his cookbooks. “I thought he had the goods,” Marshall said. She approached him to take a photo. He agreed, and motioned for her to sit in his lap, she said.
She did so, thinking that it was part of the party atmosphere, she said. But Batali eventually crossed an uncomfortable line, she said. As her friend snapped photos, Batali started kissing her on the cheek, and when Marshall turned her head, he “stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Marshall said. She started to laugh and leaned back from his lap, using momentum to get off, she said; her friend confirmed that she witnessed and photographed the events, saying that she watched “for signals” that Marshall needed more help.
“I was laughing because I didn’t know what else to do. It was absurd; it was surreal,” Marshall said. “There’s that razor’s edge where it becomes from being bawdy to being creepy.”
But at the time, Marshall — who’s experienced other unsavory encounters throughout her long history in the industry — tried to laugh off the experience, she said, adding that her first instinct “was to protect him.” She even posted the photo to Instagram without tagging Batali, trying to make light of it with a caption, “I didn’t order the tongue with my dinner.” After further allegations came out, she realized that “I wasn’t an idiot for putting myself in that position; his behavior was off,” she said.
Since she wrote about the experience for Cherry Bombe without naming Batali, she’s heard from some peers who have said things like “it’s just a kiss, no big deal,” Marshall said. “But it still feels really gross,” she said of the forced kiss. “Why do you think that’s okay?”
Following allegations in December, the Link Stryjewski Foundation removed Batali from its headlining January event. In a statement, the organization said it was not made aware of any incidents and that “our staff is empowered to bring any issues to our attention from within and without, either to their managers on staff, the owners, or directly to the HR department.”
Sharelle Klaus said her first, and only, encounter with Batali was “outrageous.” In June 2012, she was introduced to Batali by a mutual friend when they all bumped into each other at a restaurant in Aspen, the night before the annual Food & Wine festival in the city. Klaus, who lives in Seattle, where Batali grew up, said she was thrilled to meet the famed chef. She’s also the founder and CEO of a beverage company and was happy to make the industry connection, she said.
Within a couple of moments of them meeting, Klaus, 48, said Batali — who seemed inebriated — suggested the pair take a photo together. She smiled wide and posed next to Batali, but a moment after the photo was snapped, she said he thrust his hand down her pants, beneath her underwear, and grabbed her butt. “I literally jumped, said something like ‘Whoa.’ I was in total shock,” she said. “This was in a restaurant; this was just brazen and crazy.” In disbelief, Klaus, who had been leaving the restaurant before encountering Batali, just walked out. “In one moment you go from being really excited to meet this guy, who’s like a hometown hero, to just disgust,” she said. “He obviously has no shame.” Her daughter corroborated the incident; Eater has also seen the photo.
Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she fears repercussions in her industry, said less than 30 minutes after her own chance meeting with Batali, he cupped his hand around her left breast and refused to let go. In November 2008, the woman went to meet a friend at the Spotted Pig, the now-infamous restaurant where Batali is accused of sexually assaulting a woman, as well as other sexual misconduct and harassment toward employees. There, she ran into another friend, who invited her up to a private room on the third floor. “We took seats at this long table, and I realized Mario Batali was sitting next to me — then I saw Anne Burrell sitting at the other end of the table,” she said. “I wasn’t in their industry and I can’t say I was big fan of Mario’s, but I definitely felt like, ‘Oh, this is cool, this is one of those only-in-New York kind of experiences.’” (Burrell, through a spokesman, said she does not recall the incident.)
The woman alleges she had been chatting with Batali for a bit, less than a half hour, when all of a sudden he “fully palmed” her left breast with his hand. “In total shock, I just said, ‘Would you kindly remove your hand from my breast?’ And he just looked at me, still holding my breast and said ‘Why should I?’” she recalled. “I pointed to his wedding ring and said ‘Well, you’re married and this is disgusting.’” He laughed it off, she said, and then eventually took his hand off of her. She then got up and walked to the other side of the room, she said. Her friend corroborated the incident.
“It was just horrifying to me. I mean, how do you treat people like this?” she said. “This man means nothing to me, but I’m still repulsed by him and think what he did to me was awful. I can’t even imagine the way the women who had to work for him, and deal with his abuse, must feel.”
Many women who worked for the celebrity chef have accused him of inappropriate touching, saying that the touching was an assertion of power. Now, additional former employees have spoken with Eater about Batali’s conduct from some nearly 20 years ago.
One woman who worked at Lupa from 2002 to about 2007, starting as a server and eventually becoming a manager, told Eater that she will never forget the first time she met Batali because in lieu of shaking her hand, he rubbed her crotch. “It was so bizarre, and shocking — I had this moment, like, ‘Is this how people in New York shake hands?’” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she still works in the food industry
The woman, who had been working at Lupa for a couple of weeks, spotted Batali sitting at the bar with a woman at another one of his nearby restaurants, Babbo, in May 2002. Seeing that they were among the last people in the restaurant, he bought her and her friend a round of drinks, she said. “Since I hadn’t met him yet, with some encouragement from friends that were with me, I decided I’d go to introduce myself,” she said. “He was friendly, he said he knew who I was — which I’m sure he didn’t — and when I reached out my hand to shake his, he instead pushed the back of his hand into the top of my crotch. I described it [to people over the years] as ‘knuckling my grassy knoll.’ He caressed it, it was just the strangest thing.”
Stunned and bewildered, the woman said she awkwardly said goodbye and walked away. In the years that she worked for Batali, she said she periodically saw him come into the restaurant, usually late at night, and drink at the bar. He’d often say flirtatious things to her, like “love you” or “marry me,” if he happened to notice her passing by, she alleges — but she just tried to keep her distance. “We all knew he was sleazy. We dreaded when he’d come in, because we knew he’d keep everyone there late, drinking and doing what he does,” the woman said, but added that he never touched her again. A former Lupa coworker and another friend of the woman confirmed they were told of Batali’s alleged crotch-touching.
Another former Lupa employee, who worked at the restaurant from 2008 to 2010 but did not overlap with the former employee who claims that Batali touched her crotch, said that Batali had a reputation as a “serial crotch grazer.” Though this did not happen to her, she offered a description of a “specific, bizarre act” where he would push the back of his hand into a server’s crotch or “lightly cup” a woman’s crotch as he was sitting and the server was standing. She said this was discussed among female servers, often in a joking manner, the way that much unsavory behavior in the restaurant was discussed: Although often said with humor, the staffer’s warnings to “stay away from his hands” were meant to be taken seriously, the woman said, because of Batali’s reputation for allegedly touching female employees.
A different woman, a former hostess and maitre d’ at Batali’s Lupa restaurant from about 1999 to 2000, said that one evening in 1999, she was at a small, neighboring Greenwich Village restaurant, ’Ino — owned by Batali’s Lupa business partner, Jason Denton — when she noticed Batali sitting at a booth with a woman.
“I was just trying to walk past, in this tiny restaurant, and Batali grabbed me, pulled me onto his lap like I was a toy, and started trying to push my face into his, trying to kiss me,” said the women, who asked to remain anonymous because she remains in the food industry and still fears repercussions. “I was just disgusted, in shock — I was about 19 years old at the time, barely weighed 100 pounds, and here was this powerful, much bigger older man, someone I worked for, treating me like I was his plaything. It was gross; it was mortifying.”
The woman said she managed to pull herself off of Batali and ran out crying. She was casually seeing Jason Denton’s brother, Joe, who ran out to console her. Jason Denton later told her that Batali apologized, but she never heard anything directly from him. (Denton, through a spokesman, said he did not recall the incident.) “When I would see Batali at Lupa, often times with his wife, with his kids, he just didn’t acknowledge me at all,” she said.
As misconduct allegations continue to come out, women who allege that Batali inappropriately touched them can no longer see a future for him in the industry, even if they felt they could have forgiven him before, they said.
“Even without my name, I’d hoped that telling these stories, with the stories of other women, would at least be enough to make him take a real step back, truly reflect on what he’s done, on his disregard and disrespect for women, for people in our industry who saw him as a leader, as probably the most well-known chef in America,” said McCoy, the pastry chef who initially spoke to Eater anonymously. “But to learn about the depths of the allegations against him, just after he had the audacity to throw around ideas like starting a new company with a woman, like that makes everything okay, just a couple of months after you were exposed as a total creep — he’s just failed so miserably, I’m repulsed.”
For a while, Marshall, who alleges that Batali forced his tongue in her mouth in 2017, said that she missed the Batali she used to enjoy — the food, the persona, the cookbooks. But newer allegations in the last month “[have] soured me on that,” she said. Watson said she’s felt his apologies have not been sincere, like the one with a pizza-dough cinnamon rolls recipe attached, and is aghast over reports that he may be attempting a comeback. “Initially I thought that if you are trying to redeem yourself, you should probably seem like you are actually looking for redemption, not just a way back into the spotlight — but now I can’t believe he would even attempt to make a return,” she said.
Despite pushback from her peers in the industry, Marshall said she doesn’t regret talking publicly about her experience with Batali. And she has hope for younger women in light of everything happening with the #MeToo movement right now, she said; after talking at length with her daughter, who is 25, Marshall thinks the next generation may be less tolerant of such bad behavior — and less likely to blame themselves. “I hope that [people] understand that if it happens to them, they don’t have to be ashamed,” she said. “It’s not anything I did. I asked for a picture.”
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Edited by Serena Dai and Matt Buchanan
Fact checked by Samantha Schuyler and Stefanie Tuder
Additional reporting by Serena Dai
Photo illustration by Eater; Photos: Lambert/Getty Images; Paper Boat Creative/Getty Images; Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images; Keystone-France/Getty Images
Additional photo editing by Mariya Pylayev