Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Mario Batali waives his right to a jury: Celebrity chef, 61, turns up to sex assault trial in somber black Crocs to face fan's claims he forcibly kissed and groped her after they posed for a selfie in 2017

  • Celebrity chef Mario Batali waived his right to a jury trial in Boston court Monday
  • His fate will now be determined by Municipal Court Judge James Stanton
  • Batali has pleaded not guilty to forcibly kissing and groping a fan in 2017
  • The woman claims Batali made his advances after she invited him to take a selfie 
  • If convicted, the chef could face up to two-and-a-half years in jail
  • Batali would also be required to register as a sex offender 
  • The proceedings in his sexual misconduct trial are expected last about two days 

By Natasha Anderson For Dailymail.Com and Rachel Bunyan For Mailonline

Published: 15:47, 9 May 2022 | Updated: 18:06, 9 May 2022

The woman who accused celebrity chef Mario Batali of sexual misconduct told his trial he drunkenly touched her 'sensitive feminine areas,' leaving her 'mortified and disgusted.'

Batali, 61, who turned up to his trial on Monday wearing black Crocs, appeared unfazed as the woman detailed how he allegedly forcibly kissed and groped her at a Boston restaurant in 2017.

'His hands were in sensitive areas...touching my body,' his accuser, whose identity has been withheld, testified, adding: 'He was definitely drunk. I could smell it.' 

The trial opened Monday after Batali - in a surprise move - waived his right to a jury trial and opted instead to have Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton decide his fate. 

The former Food Network star pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to a charge of indecent assault and battery after the fan made her accusations. The proceedings in Batali's trial are expected last about two days. 

She said the chef saw her taking a photo of him at the now-defunct Towne Stove and Spirits restaurant and invited her to take a selfie with him.

She alleged he then groped one of her breasts and her buttocks and groin, and kissed her face repeatedly without her consent.  

It is the first criminal charge levied against Batali following sexual harassment and assault allegations that first surfaced in April 2017 amid the #MeToo movement. If convicted, Batali could face up to two-and-a-half years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. 

Mario Batali, 61, arrived at the Boston Municipal Courthouse on Monday wearing Crocs. He also waived his right to a jury trial and has opted to have a Boston judge decide his fate

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Batali appeared unfazed in court Monday as his accuser detailed how he allegedly forcibly kissed and groped her at a Boston restaurant in 2017

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Dueling narratives emerged during opening statements in Boston Municipal Court Monday. The prosecution alleged Batali drunkenly assaulted his accuser while posing with her for 'selfie' photographs at a bar near Boston's Eataly in 2017.

The defense argued the incident never happened.

'She wanted to get a celebrity picture with a celebrity chef, the defendant,' Assistant District Attorney Nina Bonelli said in her opening statement. 'Instead of just selfies, the defendant began groping [her] body.'

When Bonelli asked how the incident made her feel, the accuser answered: 'Mortified, disgusted...kind of the sensation that this is not right.' 

'The defense in this case is very simple: This didn't happen,' attorney Anthony Fuller, who is representing Batali, said.

Bonelli said the woman, now 32, came forward after media reports revealed Batali had been accused of sexually aggressive behavior by a 'barrage' of other women.

The accuser first went on the record with her allegations in an Eater.com interview in 2017. She was initially named in the article, but has since requested anonymity - which was approved by Judge Stanton.

'When that media story first ran in December 2017, [the plaintiff] realized it wasn't an isolated incident,' Bonelli said. The prosecutor also noted how the alleged victim had photographic evidence depicting the incident.

Fuller said the woman's photos and videos showed that no assault occurred.

'His free hand is somewhere on my body in every single one of these photos,' the alleged victim said during taped deposition that the defense played during opening statement. 

'The photos and videos don't support her testimony,' Fuller hit back, arguing that her 'self-serving, biased testimony' was simply to support a civil lawsuit she filed in hopes of a monetary settlement

Fuller also said her credibility was undercut by her text messages with a friend joking about the incident. 

When filling out a questionnaire for jury duty in an unrelated assault case, rather than say she was a crime victim to get out of jury duty, she falsely claimed to be clairvoyant, he added. 

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Batali's accuser alleged he was drunk and had 'his hands' in her 'sensitive feminine areas' at a Boston restaurant in 2017. Batali is pictured in court Monday 

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Assistant District Attorney Nina Bonelli (pictured in court Monday) claims the plaintiff 'wanted to get a celebrity picture with a celebrity chef' but 'instead of just selfies' Batali groped her

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Attorney Anthony Fuller (right), who is representing Batali (left), said during his opening statements Monday: 'The defense in this case is very simple: This didn't happen'

While being questioned by prosecutors at Batali's sexual misconduct trial, the 32-year-old said testified that she felt embarrassed by the 2017 incident - until she saw other women step forward to share similar encounters with Batali.

'This happened to me and this is my life,' said the woman when asked by prosecutors why she also decided to speak out. 'I want to be able to take control of what happened, come forward, say my peace and have everyone be accountable for their actions and behaviors.'

'She's not being truthful,' the defense attorney Fuller hit back. 'This is being fabricated for money and for fun.'

During cross-examination Monday, Fuller questioned the 32-year-old about a series of text messages she sent a friend after the alleged incident.

He suggested the plaintiff purposefully failed to identify the friend to the court as someone she spoke to about the alleged assault, noting she seemingly joked with the friend about the assault.

'Oh wow, I have a good story for you,' the accuser texted her friend on December 11, 2017 with a picture of Batali.

She then states 'he assaulted me,' according to evidence presented in court.

The friend responded: 'Be like, I have a pimp and I want to be compensated.'

'Yeah right,' the accuser replied. 'Like, is that how it works?'

Fuller questioned why she joked about the alleged assault.

'I definitely present myself in some of these text messages as being very flippant, making it seem like it's not a big deal, in this message of texts,' she told Fuller. 'But it's a pretty serious thing.'

The defense, trying to poke holes in the timeline of the woman's allegations, pointed out that, according to her phone records, she never claimed Batali assaulted her until she read an article detailing allegations from other women. 

'Pay me £10K or I post them all,' Fuller read in court, claiming she sent that text on December 11, 2017.

'You wanted to get paid for the pictures. That was your first reaction when you saw the article, right?' he questioned. 

'That's how I thought this worked,' she replied. 'I had never been assaulted - I shouldn't say that. I never knew what to do when a celebrity violates you.'

Further messages revealed the woman talked to her friend about suing the chef.

'Well at least we will get some excitement about suing Mario Batali, thankfully,' the accuser wrote on December 12, 2017 to her friend.

'F*** yes!

Take them all down.

2017, the year we get every last one of these f***s,' the friend responded before asking if the accuser tried coordinating with the other accusers.

The accuser then allegedly told her friend she emailed a reporter to share her story.

Her friend advised her to withhold the photos so the reporter wouldn't use them without compensating her and said 'just play up the story.' 

She responded: 'Omg queen, of course.'

Batali's accuser denied having any recollection of sending the messages, but admitted she clearly did. 

Fuller suggested that the woman intentionally left this conversation out of evidence, by neglecting to disclose it, because it reflected poorly on her case. She repeatedly claimed she had forgotten the text exchange occurred. 

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Batali's trial was presented with text messages between his accuser and her friend seemingly joking about the alleged assault and suggesting she should be compensated for her story

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Celebrity chef Mario Batali places items on a table in a court room at Boston Municipal Court on the first day of his pandemic-delayed trial

Lawyers for Batali didn't comment ahead of Monday's trial in Boston Municipal Court, however chef's lawyers have previously said the charge is without merit.

His accuser has also filed a civil lawsuit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for 'severe emotional distress' that's still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. Her lawyer said he and his client would reserve comment until the criminal trial is concluded. 

The chef is among a number of high-profile men who have faced a public reckoning during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.

The 61-year-old was once a Food Network fixture on shows like 'Molto Mario' and 'Iron Chef America.' But the ponytail- and orange Croc-wearing personality's high-flying career crumbled amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, after which he stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left the since-discontinued ABC cooking show 'The Chew.'

Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging the allegations 'match up' with ways he has acted.

'I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team,' he said in an email newsletter at the time. 'My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses.

I take full responsibility.'

Jennifer Roman, legal analyst at CBS Boston, predicts his apology will resurface during this weeks trial, hinting the remarks may hinder his defense.

'Statements Mario Batali made about that lawsuit saying that the allegations 'match up' with some of his conduct could be seen as an admission of prior sexual assault in other cases,' Roman told TV station Monday.

Batali's accuser allegedly has 'picture evidence' to support her claims, however his attorney disputes its validity. 

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Municipal Court Judge James Stanton (pictured in court Monday) is tasked with determining Batali's fate now that the chef has waived his right to a jury

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Batali (center) pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to a charge of indecent assault and battery after a woman accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her at a Boston restaurant in 2017.

He is pictured arriving at the Boston Municipal Courthouse on Monday

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

The woman alleged that Batali (pictured in the Eataly in 2010) saw her taking a photo of him at the now-defunct Towne Stove and Spirits restaurant and invited her to take a selfie with him.

She said Batali then groped one of her breasts and her buttocks and groin, and kissed her face repeatedly without her consent

Last year, Batali, his former business partner Joe Bastianich and their New York City 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 workers sexually harassed employees.

They agreed to pay the £600,000 settlement to the 20 men and women who said they were sexually harassed while working at their restaurants.

The New York attorney general office's investigation found a culture rife with sexual harassment at the Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto, which closed permanently in April 2021, with employees reporting that managers and colleagues groped them, kissed them against their will, or made sexual comments.

Some female employees said they were told to wear makeup and even to get breast implants, and that male colleagues would tell them to get on their knees or discuss the attributes of their mouths.

Victims who came forward said they wanted to see a change in the restaurant industry, where they say that all too often sexual harassment is viewed as routine or mere horseplay. 

'Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalized in any industry or workplace,' said Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at Del Posto, in a statement.

'When my female coworkers and I were being sexually harassed by multiple people at Del Posto, the restaurant's leadership made us feel as if we were asking for it -- as if it is a rite of passage to be harassed at work,' she added. 

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Batali, seated next to his attorney, is seen frowning during his accuser's testimony Monday

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

If convicted, Batali (pictured outside the Boston Municipal Courthouse Monday) could face up to two-and-a-half years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender

Celebrity chef Mario Batali waives right to jury in sex assault trial

Mario Batali (left) and his former business partner Joe Bastianich (right) appear with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Eataly's grand opening

Female employees also complained that chefs and managers blatantly favored male employees and made misogynistic comments degrading women in the workplace.

One manager referred to several female employees in front of dining guests as 'little girl' and 'sensitive,' and said that 'females should not work in the mezzanine,' which was a main part of the restaurant, according to the report. 

'Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,' said Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, in a statement. 

'Management routinely ignored these behaviors, made excuses for the perpetrators, and often used victim blaming as a way to avoid having to deal with a workplace culture rooted in fear and humiliation,' she added.

In Boston, Batali opened a branch of the popular Italian food marketplace Eataly in the downtown Prudential Center in 2016 as well as a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city's Seaport District in 2015.

Batali has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations worldwide including in Boston, and the Babbo restaurant in the city has since closed.

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