The Truth About Mario Batali's All-Female Kitchen

For about a minute there, the famous New York chef sounded like a champion of feminism. Mario Batali praised the women in the kitchen of his "fanciest restaurant," Del Posto, at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in October 2017 (via Page Six). Batali told festival attendees he and his restaurants had evolved beyond the "Cro-Magnon" era of the 1960s and 1970s when the back end of restaurants was dominated by men. The Del Posto kitchen was an all-female operation, all the way up to the executive chef. "It's not because they have a vagina," Batali said. "It's because they're the smartest people for the job."

Batali at the time had few peers in the restaurant business. He had an ownership stake in some 16 restaurants, including Del Posto and the destination Italian eatery Babbo in Greenwich Village. He and Gwyneth Paltrow were close friends. His own celebrity status launched after he hosted the popular Food Network show Molto Mario in the 1990s.

A moderator at the Innovation Festival asked Batali if he thought a #MeToo reckoning was coming to the restaurant industry, which has been notorious for its sexist culture. In fact, #MeToo was making big headlines that month. A few weeks earlier, The New York Times reported women's claims that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed them. Then, just one day before Batali's Fast Company appearance, New Orleans chef John Besh left his restaurants in disgrace following more than 25 sexual harassment accusations (via Restaurant Business). 

Mario Batali supported women with his words but not his actions

Batali himself had to be feeling the heat. In that same month, October 2017, he was reprimanded by his own restaurant management company after an employee filed a complaint accusing him of inappropriate behavior (via Eater New York). Still, Batali hardly flinched when asked about #MeToo. He said the time had come for the industry to move beyond its toxic culture. "They are so far behind us, in the evolutionary phase of where we are right now," Batali said, referring to the sexism, racism, and homophobia in the restaurant workplace. "It's gone for most of us, but it's still holding on for people that are living in fear ... that their own diminished abilities are going to be recognized by someone who happens to be smarter than them." Maybe for the last time in his career, a theater full of women and men applauded Batali.

Six weeks after the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Batali's own alleged sexual-misconduct allegations got their exposé, in Eater New York. The celebrity chef who said he didn't have women in his kitchen simply because "they have a vagina" grabbed a former employee's breasts at a party, according to one of the women interviewed by Eater New York. "In that moment I realized, 'I'm just a body [to him],'" she said. Four women spoke to Eater New York about inappropriate touching and comments over two decades. Batali owned up to his bad behavior and apologized.

Mario Batali has kept a low profile during criminal investigations

Batali removed himself from his restaurants' operations immediately after the Eater story came out, just as Besh had done in New Orleans. It wasn't until 15 months later that Batali sold his financial stake in his restaurants, severing ties with them altogether (via Eater New York). ABC fired Batali after his long run on the daytime food show, The Chew (via Eater).

Authorities investigated Batali's actions in and around New York's restaurants but never charged him with a crime. In Boston, Batali was charged with indecent assault and battery after a woman accused him of groping her (via Eater). Batali still could face more legal trouble. In early 2020, the New York state attorney general announced an investigation into sexual harassment at Batali's former restaurants (via Grub Street). Batali is now far removed from his former kitchens and the impressive women who work in them. He was said to be maintaining a low profile at a family home in northern Michigan in 2019 (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet).