BOSTON — The trial of celebrity chef Mario Batali on sexual misconduct allegations, delayed by a pandemic, opens Monday in Boston.
Batali pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent assault and assault in 2019, which stemmed from allegations that he forcibly kissed and fondled a woman after taking a selfie with her at a Boston restaurant in 2017. The woman says Batali noticed that she was taking pictures of him and invited her to take one together, then repeatedly touched and kissed her without her consent.
If convicted, Batali faces up to 2 1/2 years in prison and registration as a sex offender. He is expected to stand trial throughout the trial, which should last about two days after jury selection is complete, Suffolk District Attorney’s Office Kevin Hayden said.
Batali’s attorneys did not comment until jury selection began Monday in Boston City Court. The chef’s lawyers previously said the charges were unfounded.
His accuser has also filed a civil lawsuit against Batali, seeking undisclosed damages for “serious emotional distress,” which is still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. Her attorney did not respond to emails on Friday.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have taken a public stand against sexual abuse and harassment during the social movement #MeToo in recent years.
The 61-year-old was once a Food Network staple on shows like Molto Mario and Iron Chef America. But the ponytail and orange croc personality’s high-flying career collapsed amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, prompting him to step down from the day-to-day running of his restaurant empire and quit the now-defunct ABC cooking show The Chew.
Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging that the allegations are “consistent” with his behavior.
“I made a lot of mistakes and I’m very sorry that I let my friends, my family, my fans and my team down,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partner, and their New York restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office into allegations that Batali, restaurant managers, and other employees sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened a branch of the popular Italian grocery marketplace Eataly in downtown’s Prudential Center in 2016 and a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District in 2015.
Batali has since been bought out by its stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations around the world, including in Boston, and the city’s Babbo restaurant has since closed.