Shortly after Mario Batali was first accused of sexual harassment by nearly two dozen current and former employees, he stepped away from day-to-day operations at all 24 restaurants operated by Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. Now, the disgraced chef, restaurateur, and television personality has announced that he is divesting from his company — but he is also, at least according to a new report by The New York Times, eyeing a return to the restaurant industry.
An article on Batali by Kim Severson, published April 3 online and the following day in the newspaper's print edition, considers whether it’s possible for men like Batali to make a comeback after being accused of, and sometimes admitting to, groping, rubbing, and/or making inappropriate comments to employees. The 57-year-old chef confirmed to Eater in December that “much of the behavior described [in reports of his offenses] does, in fact, match up with the ways I have acted.” Nonetheless, the chef, who is seeking counseling, is apparently keeping his options open for repairing his reputation in order to step back into a restaurant career.
Severson reports that Batali is thinking of creating a new company led by a “powerful woman chief executive,” an idea he discussed in February with former Dolce & Gabbana president Federica Marchionni. (Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group had earlier announced that Nancy Silverton, with whom they partner in the Mozza restaurants, and Lidia Bastianich, Joe's mother and also a partner in some of their enterprises, would assume leadership roles in the company.) Batali is also reportedly traveling to Rwanda and Greece to help refugees.
Severson also says that the former co-host of The Chew still has “legions” of fans and colleagues who “admire and respect his generosity, culinary knowledge and charisma.” Although she does touch upon those who don’t support him — including Anthony Bourdain, who told Severson that his message to Batali was to “retire and count yourself lucky” — some are outraged at the Times for giving the accused chef a platform.
“Upset to see America’s newspaper of record give a platform to a serial abuser like @Mariobatali for what amounts to a comeback trial balloon,” @TheGurglingCod wrote on Twitter. “And I am sure there are many folks who felt much more pain that I did seeing @nytfood spinning a redemption narrative just a few months after the Mario story emerged.”
“He doesn’t need a job. He just needs us to love him again. F--- that s---,” he added.
Subtle Cheddar also shared some not-so-happy feelings in a thread of tweets. The food blogger thought several details in the Times article were staged by a public relations team to make the chef “look better” — especially the segment claiming Batali is traveling to developing countries to work with displaced Rwandans and refugees.
“It’s very difficult for me not to read the article and wonder how long it will take the reporter to regret carrying so much water for a rapist,” the food blogger wrote. “The reporter fails to mention Joe Bastianich’s abuse of women, giving him a totally free pass on shoring up his company’s reputation.”
Bastianich, Batali’s former B&B business partner, has also been accused of being “sleazy” and neglectful in the workplace.
Subtle Cheddar offered some suggestions for more apt headlines: “Rapist Considers His Options, and @nytfood Is Here to Help Him Figure It All Out,” or the same with the alternate beginning “Predator Who Attacked Unconscious Woman at the Spotted Pig….” (Batali allegedly groped a woman at that New York City restaurant, in which he is an investor; its primary owner is Ken Friedman, who himself faces allegations of sexual harassment.)
The blogger says that the “image redemption” piece is “desperate” and a “disgusting piece of journalism,” adding: “Last week, this reporter was writing about sexism and egg spoons. Today she’s helping repair the image of a predator.”
Other high-profile restaurant personalities accused of misconduct include New Orleans’ John Besh, the Plaza Hotel’s Todd English, Top Chef alum Johnny Iuzzini, and D.C. restaurateur Mike Isabella, among many others. The scope of the problem makes the need for reform perhaps the most important of the 20 lessons we learned about food last year.