In the wake of Eater NY’s bombshell report that Mario Batali is stepping aside from operations at his restaurant group due to allegations of sexual misconduct (allegations he doesn’t wholly deny), the restaurant world at large has to process the news about one of its most venerated members. Chefs, writers, and other industry types have taken to Twitter to express their feelings in light of the news. Eater has reached out to several chefs and restaurateurs for comment.
Many, including Tom Colicchio, who recently penned “An Open Letter to Male Chefs,” challenging men in the restaurant industry to Do Better, did not seem surprised at all:
And no one should be surprised https://t.co/DCLvDzNYwO— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) December 11, 2017
Everybody Knew: The Mario Batali Story.— Tia Keenan (@kasekaiserina) December 11, 2017
It’s sad to hear all of the sexual harassment cases surfacing, and now this morning within my own industry. To be honest, I was not surprised when I heard the news. Not because of the person who was accused of the acts (who I respected professionally as a chef/entrepreneur), but because sexual harassment/assault is quite common in my industry and is rarely called out or taken seriously. As female chefs, we are told pervy looks and dirty jokes were “just how the industry is” and to be expected in a male dominated industry. It’s unacceptable for any person to feel unsafe, victimized, and demeaned in any setting. As much admired chef @tomcolicchio stated “...it’s time for the men in the restaurant industry to say to each other: enough; Because deep down men know that sexist shit talk is just a lazy substitute for real wit.” I respect the bravery of the people who came forward today to share their experiences. I hope that more women and men take a stance against sexual harassment and assault in my industry and stand up for each other — look up from that cutting board, stop polishing silverware, and start speaking up. The most surprising part about today is my IG feed (mainly food and puppies) has been pretty silent about this topic when normally it’s going off about something that cannot be ignored. #enough #mariobatali
For others, it’s made them reconsider the Batali they thought they knew from his restaurants, television shows, and the iconic book chronicling his culinary life, Heat by Bill Buford. In the book, Buford reports witnessing Batali’s crass behavior toward female employees, which New York Times critic Pete Wells now views in hindsight:
I remember being grossed out by that part of Heat. But I moved on, kept reading. It changed my image of Batali but didn’t change it enough to make me think of him as a guy who abuses women at work.— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) December 11, 2017
This is another day when leaders in the restaurant biz have an opportunity to tell us what they believe in.— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) December 11, 2017
Anthony Bourdain, who was tweeting last night indicating he knew ~ some bad news ~ was breaking today, noted that this is a time for the industry to make a stand:
It’s where you stand when the people you care about and admire do awful things that matters. Keeping head down and hoping it goes away? No.— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) December 11, 2017
Eater reached out to Nancy Silverton, the prolific Los Angeles chef who collaborated with Mario Batali on her Mozza Restaurant Group, which includes Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, and Chi Spacca. In her statement, she called it “a sad day in the restaurant industry,” and also added: “Sexual misconduct of any kind is unacceptable in our workplaces, on any level and I simply do not stand for it.” Head to Eater LA to read her full statement.
Boston chef-restaurateur Barbara Lynch, a collaborator in Eataly’s Boston location, sent a statement to the Boston Globe: “As I’ve expressed many times before, this is an especially tough industry for women to excel in... I have never reported directly to Mario, and have not experienced the behavior described by the media. The allegations as described are horrifying, unacceptable and inexcusable. I commend the women who’ve had the courage to come forward; their brave voices will bring change to the restaurant industry. I’m glad to see that Mario has accepted responsibility for his actions.”
Fellow Boston chef Tiffani Faison wants to see more men in the industry owning up to bad behavior:
I cannot believe we are in a true watershed moment when NOT ONE MAN has gotten ahead of allegations. They all know what they did and are just hoping their number doesn’t come up. That is the opposite of integrity. #metoo #mariobatali— tiffani faison (@tiffanifaison) December 11, 2017
When reached for comment, Faison says she does see this moment as watershed, but she sees these changes as, regrettably, too dependent on women. She wants to see male chefs and restaurateurs getting out in front, saying what they’ve done is wrong and proactively addressing those concerns, rather than the current situation: “People are sitting on their hands hoping that sexual-predator bingo doesn't land on them.” She also added that she wants to see a focus-shift:
There are a lot of women who have been dealing with [harassment in the industry] for a long time, and when it comes out, we’re like ‘Yup.’ It’s not a shocking thing. But for the general public, there’s this heartbreak. When it’s Kevin Spacey, Mario Batali, John Besh — people that are likable figures in public, and people like what they produce... there’s this pause. There’s a conversation around how to deal with this disappointment. Do we patronize the restaurants? Do we watch the movies?
This is a really big world. There’s room for so many people. For every Mario Batali, for every Kevin Spacey, for every Al Franken, as much as you liked them or believed in them, there’s someone right behind them that’s just as talented, just as capable, that’s going to be just as inspiring, that’s not actively hurting people.
San Francisco fine dining star Dominique Crenn took to Instagram to share her #MeToo experiences, noting that: “Sexual harassment is damaging in level that perhaps people do not understand.”
Dear World, dear humanity, dear you Sexual harassment has Been an outgoing behavior for a long time. I command the women and men that have came forward and finely have their voices heard. The way we will change this culture will be to have many conversations with everyone and also with the predators that have ruin so many victims/humans life. I am a woman, and i have been Harassed. Sexual harassment is damaging in level that perhaps people do not understand. I invite my industry and others industries to not be afraid of speaking out about it. There is no excuse period for this type of behavior, but there are ways to educated and make this world a safer place for all of us. We are the people, we are the leaders of change. Join me in this movement #metoo
Eater reached out to hear more from restaurateur Jen Agg, who has written extensively, including for Eater, about misogyny in the restaurant industry. She tells Eater:
Obviously the allegations against Mario Batali (which of course I believe to be true) are disgusting and I would say, unsurprising. Not because I had heard anything more than rumors, but because it's clear that this is not unusual behavior for a specific type of powerful man. It's very telling that the brave women who came forward did so anonymously and seem to be so scared of repercussions [or] backlash. It suggests that Batali, who obviously knew this story was brewing, isn’t really sorry, just sorry he got caught.
Yet again, I expect to be disappointed as leaders in the restaurant industry put their heads down and pretend this isn’t happening. It’s a huge, systemic problem that arises from the complete entitlement kings of fiefdoms feel (plus alcohol and a total lack of accountability). Food media, (including Eater) has long glorified, documented and raised the profiles of the (ugh) “bad boy” chef, and the dining public likes its chef bros a little sadistic. The entire industry needs to be rebooted.
Eric Ripert issues a statement in the afternoon, not mentioning Batali by name but referencing poor behavior in the industry:
Eater also reached out to Momofuku chef-founder David Chang, who sent the following:
First and foremost, the victims are most important and they need our support. Our industry is broken, and we must all work towards being better. Batali is a long-time friend who has supported me throughout my career. While I’m personally saddened by the news, there is just no way to condone or justify these actions. These reports underscore the urgent need to change the culture of our kitchens and workplaces.
Senior food and drinks editor for Time Inc. and Chefs With Issues founder Kat Kinsman sums up the mood today succinctly:
This is a disappointing, disgusting & sad day for a lot of people, but what's worse is that it's been a disappointing, disgusting & sad work reality for women in the restaurant industry for a long time.— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) December 11, 2017
This post will be updated with comments as Eater receives them.