After a nearly six-year social media hiatus, disgraced chef Mario Batali is officially back on Instagram. The chef made his comeback to the platform on October 21, complete with a slightly blurry photo of red-sauced pasta and a cryptic announcement: “Mario Batali virtual events coming soon.” Then on Monday, Batali followed it up with a photo of his dogs on the beach, saying that he was “thinking about cooking.”
Eater reached out to the email address included in Batali’s Instagram post, and a spokesperson for the chef declined to provide any comment, noting that “Mario is not doing any media.” That’s not an especially surprising position from the chef, considering how tight-lipped he has been since multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct in 2017. The allegations shook the food world, and Batali stepped away from “day-to-day” operations of his businesses, including restaurants Babbo, Otto, and others, and from his role on ABC show The Chew. In 2022, Batali faced criminal charges stemming from the allegations, and was acquitted of indecent assault and battery charges by a Boston judge. That same year, Batali reached confidential settlements with two women who had sued the chef, both accusing him of forcible groping.
With the exception of an apology letter sent via email on December 15, 2017 that, for whatever reason, also included his recipe for cinnamon rolls, Batali has kept both his email list and his social media platforms quiet in the intervening years. But this isn’t the first time that Batali has seemingly tried to stage a comeback. He has continued to maintain a place in the restaurant industry — mostly lurking behind the scenes — with a minority ownership stake in Eataly, which the company bought out by in 2019. Earlier this year, Batali made his most public return to the restaurant industry with an investment in a Michigan bakery called Common Good. In applying for a liquor license for the bakery, owners Jason Gollan and Linda Gollan said that they “plan[ned] to leverage our partnership with celebrity chef Mario Batali” with a series of events to raise money for hunger relief charities, which don’t appear to have happened yet.
And although it’s unclear what exactly “Mario Batali virtual events” would look like beyond that Instagram post, it is perhaps not surprising that Batali would choose to stick with virtual events as he navigates his return to the public eye. A Zoom call or Google Hangout is a space where he can control who participates and what those participants say as they’re learning how to, say, make ravioli. Batali doesn’t have to worry about criticism or being asked tough questions when he can ensure that only his superfans have access to his next act.
But why now? Maybe Batali felt like there was so much going on in the world that his reemergence would go unnoticed. Maybe he was just bored. Or maybe he thought that enough time had passed that he’d been largely forgiven. And judging by the number of enthusiastic comments on Batali’s comeback posts, including some from restaurant industry figures like former Del Posto chef de cuisine Matt Abdoo, there is at least some appetite for his return.
But for those of us who have managed to live the last six years without Batali’s presence on our TV screens and social media feeds, his return to Instagram — and whatever the hell these “virtual events” may be — feels mostly like a desperate move from a chef whose influence might have waned even if he hadn’t been accused of assault. Maybe it’s because of the way that the COVID pandemic and #MeToo movement have impacted the restaurant industry, but it feels as if we’ve lived a lifetime since Mario Batali has been relevant, and it just doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot that he has to add to the culinary conversation in 2023.