news

Above a popular New York restaurant, staff say there was a 'rape room' for years.

Mario Batali is one of the biggest names in the US food scene. He co-founded a company that owns 20 restaurants, is the host of one of the most popular cooking shows on American television (The Chew) and has written 13 top-selling cookbooks.

But over the last week, the 57-year-old Italian chef’s culinary empire has begun to crumble under allegations of sexual misconduct, his name the latest to be added to Hollywood’s sordid post-Weinstein predator list.

The claims against the the married father of two are damning and detailed. They range from inappropriate behaviour and lewd comments to harassment and assault, the most unsettling of which reportedly occurred in a top New York restaurant’s so-called “rape room”.

In the days since, as he was sacked from his TV show removed from operations at his company, Batali has admitted to having “made mistakes”, to having “mistreated and hurt” people. But as has been the pattern with these allegations, his bizarre attempt at an apology has managed only to fan the flames and cause even more pain to his alleged victims. (Kevin Spacey, anyone?)

But more on that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

The allegations.

It was on Monday that New York food magazine, Eater, published the first report. The piece, by Irene Plagianos and Kitty Greenwald, was based on the accounts of four women – three former employees and a restaurant industry worker – who allege they were touched inappropriately by Batali “in a pattern of behaviour that appears to span at least two decades”.

One alleged Batali repeatedly grabbed her from behind, and held her against his body. Another that he groped her and later forced her straddle him. And the third, that he rubbed her breasts at a party, after she accidentally spilled wine on her chest.

“[He said] ‘Let me help you with that’,” the female chef told the publication. “He just went to town, and I was so shocked. Jaw on the ground, I just stepped back from him in utter disgust and walked away.”

Mario Batali counts numerous celebrities among his friends and VIP patrons, including actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

The "rape room".

Eater's report was followed by another - perhaps more disturbing - allegation published by The New York Times.

The newspaper claimed Batali was a frequent patron of top Manhattan restaurant The Spotted Pig (which he part owns), and was observed sexually assaulting a woman in a space colloquially known to employees as "the rape room".

According to The New York Times, the third-floor haunt officially served as a private dining area for celebrity guests including Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, but had also become an unofficial late-night party space where the owner, Ken Friedman, would entertain VIP patrons. Alcohol and drugs were plentiful, "normal restaurant rules did not apply" and guests "openly groped female servers".

A former manager of the upmarket gastro pub, Jamie Seet, told the paper that during one of these parties in 2008 she observed a drunken Bertali via a CCTV camera feed "groping and kissing a woman who appeared to be unconscious".

Inappropriate, predatory behaviour had earned Batali the nickname the "Red Menace" among Spotted Pig staff, according to a former server and 20-year veteran of the restaurant, Trish Nelson.

“He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful," she said. "He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend’s face.”

The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss the importance of Salma Hayek’s essay on her relationship with Harvey Weinstein. (Post continues below.)

The bizarre 'cinnamon bun' apology.

To The New York Times allegations, Batali issued a statement that read: “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.”

But it's his response to the Eater report that has caused outrage.

All began well... “I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team," he wrote in a statement in his e-newsletter. "My behaviour was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”

But then, after a paragraph about his love of food and appreciation for his fans, he inexplicably added: "ps. in case you’re searching for a holiday-inspired breakfast, these Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls are a fan favourite", followed by a link to the recipe.

ADVERTISEMENT

As CNN commentator, Tina Brown, suggested, perhaps "pigs in blanket" would have been a more fitting dish.