Mario Batali is stepping back from his restaurant empire as well as his hosting gig on ABC amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.
In an Eater story published Monday, four women came forward with personal stories accusing the celebrity chef, 57, of “inappropriate touching in a pattern of behavior that spans at least two decades.”
One of the accusers, a chef and fan of Batali, introduced herself to him at a party about 10 years ago. When someone bumped into her and caused her to spill wine down her shirt, The Chew cohost reportedly groped her, saying, “Let me help you with that.”
“He just went to town, and I was so shocked,” the woman told Eater. “Jaw on the ground, I just stepped back from him in utter disgust and walked away.”
Three of the accusers worked for Batali, with one former employee claiming that he grabbed her from behind and press her against him repeatedly over the course of two years. Two others described incidents where Batali groped them.
Victims said they kept their secrets out of fear of retribution. A woman who claims she was inappropriately touched while working as an employee of Batali’s in the 1990s explained, “He has clear intent on being threatening when he is wronged. And the level of vindictiveness is very chilling. So, it never occurred to me to share tales out of school.”
Just two months ago, the chef was reported by an employee for inappropriate behavior. A spokesperson for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group told Eater this incident was the first formal complaint about Batali, who was required to undergo training.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the hospitality group said: “We have had systematic policies and training about sexual harassment for over 10 years, including a detailed procedure for employees to report complaints to senior management. All members of management have participated in these trainings, including Mr. Batali.”
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Although Batali remains an owner of his restaurants, he announced that he will take a leave of absence from his restaurant empire as well as his hosting gig on The Chew.
“We have asked Mario Batali to step away from The Chew while we review the allegations that have just recently come to our attention,” an ABC spokesperson for the show said in a statement to PEOPLE. “ABC takes matters like this very seriously as we are committed to a safe work environment. While we are unaware of any type of inappropriate behavior involving him and anyone affiliated with the show, we will swiftly address any alleged violations of our standards of conduct.”
In a statement to Eater, Batali said, “I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.”
“I know my actions have disappointed many people,” he continued. “The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone. To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that.”