(Reuters) – Celebrity chef Mario Batali said on Monday that he has stepped away from his restaurant company and ABC said it asked him to step aside as co-host of a daytime food and talk show after he was accused of sexual harassment in a report by an online food trade publication.
Eater New York reported that four women, who were not identified, accused Batali of touching them inappropriately in a pattern of behavior that spanned at least two decades. Three worked for the chef during their careers, according to Eater New York.
Batali said in a statement emailed by his representative Risa Heller, “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,” he said. “I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused.”
Reuters could not independently confirm the accusations.
Batali said in the statement that he was stepping away from day-to-day operations of his businesses as he works to regain people’s trust and respect.
Batali’s reputation as a master of seasonal Italian food turned him into a restaurant executive, television star, cookbook author and one of the world’s most recognizable chefs. He premiered on Food Network in 1997 on the show “Molto Mario” and in 2011 helped launch “The Chew” on ABC.
B&B Hospitality Group, which services about 24 restaurants owned by Batali and other chefs, said in an emailed statement that it takes such accusations seriously.
“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,” B&B Hospitality Group said. “All members of management have participated in these trainings, including Mr. Batali.”
“Mr. Batali and we have agreed that he will step away from the company’s operations, including the restaurants, and he has already done so,” the company said in the statement.
The ABC Television Network, a unit of Walt Disney Co, said in a statement, “We have asked Mario Batali to step away from The Chew while we review the allegations that have just recently come to our attention.”
“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.”
Food Network said in an emailed statement that it was suspending plans to relaunch “Molto Mario” in light of the accusations.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Alden Bentley)