Mario Batali, once considered the best-known celebrity chef in the United States, went on trial Monday in Boston on charges of indecent battery and assault connected to what began as a selfie session in a Boston bar in 2017.
Several prominent chefs and restaurateurs have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse since the #MeToo movement spread into the world of restaurants and hospitality in the fall of 2017, but Mr. Batali is the only one who has faced criminal charges.
If convicted, he could face up to two and a half years in the Suffolk County House of Correction and be required to register as a sex offender.
Jury selection had been scheduled to begin on Monday, but in the morning Mr. Batali told Judge James Stanton that he would waive his right to a jury trial and instead leave the verdict to the judge, The Boston Globe reported. Testimony was underway by midmorning.
The woman Mr. Batali, 61, is accused of assailing is Natali Tene, 32, who has also filed a lawsuit based on the same encounter with Mr. Batali at Towne Stove and Spirits, a bar in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston that has since closed.
The allegations in both the civil and the criminal cases are the same: Ms. Tene said that while having a drink with a friend at the bar, she noticed Mr. Batali and took his photograph. He called her over and suggested a selfie. He then grabbed her breasts, buttocks and groin, forcibly kissed her mouth and cheeks, and suggested they head to his nearby hotel, according to court documents.
Ms. Tene’s lawyer, Matthew Fogelman, said Monday that he would not comment on the civil or criminal cases until the criminal matter was resolved. He is also representing Alexandra Brown, who filed a similar lawsuit based on an incident with Mr. Batali during a selfie session in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
In earlier statements to The New York Times, a lawyer for Mr. Batali denied the accounts in Ms. Tene’s civil and criminal complaints.
“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit,” the lawyer, Anthony E. Fuller, said in a statement when Mr. Batali pleaded not guilty to the charges in Boston Municipal Court in 2019. The case’s progress was stalled in part because of the Covid pandemic.
Mr. Batali, once the host of the ABC daytime talk show “The Chew,” is one of many chefs and restaurateurs hit by accusations of sexual assault and harassment in the restaurant industry that began tumbling out in the fall of 2017 in cities like San Francisco, New York and New Orleans. Mr. Batali’s behavior first came to public light in December 2017 when four women told the website Eater that he had touched them inappropriately as part of a pattern of behavior that they and others said spanned at least two decades.
Further accounts of Mr. Batali’s behavior were revealed in a Times article the next day; several women described incidents of sexual harassment and assault at the Spotted Pig, a favorite Manhattan playground of Mr. Batali and a number of other well-known chefs, musicians and sports stars.
The New York Police Department investigated three sexual assault complaints against Mr. Batali, but a department official confirmed in 2019 that it had closed those investigations because of a lack of evidence and the statute of limitations.
Later that year, the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, said the businesses built by Mr. Batali and a former partner Joe Bastianich revealed a sexualized culture so rife with harassment and retaliation that it violated state and city human rights laws.
As part of a settlement, the two men and the company they once owned together, paid $600,000 to be divided among at least at least 20 women and men who were sexually harassed while they worked at the Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa or Del Posto, which until it closed permanently in April 2021 was the crown jewel among the men’s holdings.