Chef Mario Batali steps down after sexual misconduct allegations

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Amy Farley (L) and Mario Batali speak onstage for Passion Play: How Jessica Alba and Mario Batali Created Multichannel Marvels during the Fast Company Innovation Festival at 92nd Street Y on October 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Mario Batali has surrendered oversight of daily operations at his restaurant empire following reports of sexual misconduct by the celebrity chef over a period of at least 20 years.

The online site Eater New York, part of Vox Media, reported Monday that the incidents involve at least four women, three of whom worked for Batali. One of women, none was named in the story, said that Batali groping her chest after wine had spilled on her shirt. Another said he grabbed her from behind and holding her tightly against his body.

In a prepared statement sent to The Associated Press, Batali said that the complaints “match up” with his past behavior.

“I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family,” Batali said.

A spokesperson for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group says an employee reported inappropriate behavior by Batali in October. The company told Eater it was the first formal complaint against Batali and that he was reprimanded and required to attend training.

FILE – In this Wednesday, April 20, 2016, file photo, Mario Batali attends an awards dinner in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

Batali will also take leave from his ABC cooking show, “The Chew.”

“We have asked Mario Batali to step away from The Chew while we review the allegations that have just recently come to our attention,” the network said Monday. “ABC takes matters like this very seriously as we are committed to a safe work environment. While we are unaware of any type of inappropriate behavior involving him and anyone affiliated with the show, we will swiftly address any alleged violations of our standards of conduct.”

A wave of sexual misconduct allegations have upended the political scene and embroiled Hollywood, gaining momentum after shocking allegations of abuse and assault by Harvey Weinstein.

The #metoo movement has brought down Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, and led to resignations in the U.S. House and Senate. There are new calls for President Donald Trump to address sexual misconduct allegations that he’s faced. Last week Time magazine named the “silence breakers,” those that have shared their stories about sexual assault and harassment, as Person of the Year.

The 57-year-old Batali was well known in culinary circles, taking jobs early in his career as a sous chef at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

His career took off after opening Po in New York City in the early 1990s, and he skyrocketed to fame with the airing of “Molto Mario,” a show that ran on the Food Network for eight years, until 2004. It was there that his signature look, a fleece vest, shorts, and orange Crocs, became instantly recognizable to most people.

The Food Network, which was planning to relaunch “Molto Mario,” said Monday that it was placing its plans on hold. “Food Network takes matters like this very seriously,” it said.

Batali also co-owns restaurants in a handful of cities. The Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group owns or operates several restaurants, including Babbo in New York, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in Las Vegas and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. It’s also a partner in Eataly, an Italian food hall and grocer, which has locations in New York, Chicago and Boston.

Batali has long been socially active. The Mario Batali Foundation advocates child nutrition. He has come out forcefully against hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract oil and gas.

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