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With experience in three Batali kitchens, Chef Jacques Larson reflects on the celebrity chef's sexual misconduct allegations

"Employees should never feel threatened, intimidated, or sexually harassed, verbally or physically."

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Larson is the chef at Wild Olive and Obstinate Daughter - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Larson is the chef at Wild Olive and Obstinate Daughter

What a surreal time we are in these days with all the sexual harassment claims growing each day. I am still trying to get over Al Franken’s implication and now this, Mario Batali. Last week Batali was accused of sexual misconduct by four women in an Eater report, and I will say that this one truly saddens me.

It's no secret how much I have admired Chef Batali for many years now. One could argue that it was his cookbooks that set me on the path to a deeper understanding of Italian food, wine, and culture. He had been a hero to me in that he sparked a passion for all things Italian. I was so enamored by his charisma and business strategies, I spent three months in New York City working at three of his restaurants in a stage capacity.

I cannot really comment on the allegations. Working where and when I did during those three months, I was only able to see him a few times and only worked with him once. My experience during those times were nothing short of very professional.

That being said, Chef Batali’s reputation precedes him. Anyone I know that has gotten to become friends with him have stated that he is a very driven man and, like a lot of industry captains, he could tend to play as hard as he worked. I think that this probably has a lot to do with his behavior. We are in a new era of restaurant culture. I can say that I think these changes are all for the better. I would be lying if I said that the subterranean restaurant culture and its insular workforce and set of rules didn’t help propel me into the industry, but as I get older, I realize just how important it is to lay down some fundamental rules as to what should be accepted and not accepted at work.

Some examples:

Batali - USDA/LANCE CHEUN
  • USDA/Lance Cheun
  • Batali

People shouldn’t be expected to work for free or off the clock. Employees should not be allowed to drink while at work. Verbal abuse should not be used as a means to motivate a person. Employees should never feel threatened, intimidated, or sexually harassed, verbally or physically.

These are all issues that have come to light in the past few years and at one time, were pretty common practices in many restaurants. Food and Beverage industry people have been made to feel inferior in many circles, I feel, because these practices have been tolerated for so long. As our industry grows and develops with a greater adherence to professionalism, however, I can appreciate that we as a workforce are trying to move forward and bring the restaurant culture out of the Middle Ages.

That being said, I think respect is paramount to all of this. I could never imagine abusing my position of authority in any restaurant that I have been a part of, to sexually mistreat or harass another team member. I do not understand how one person could ever violate another person’s sense of security in any such way ... whether it’s at work or anywhere else.

This is why it is so sad to be let down by people a person that I admire. When it comes to our current sexual abuse exposure, all those qualities that I had respected in many of these people are suddenly lost in the fact that the person’s talent and power were used to subjugate another person. Though unthinkable to me and to many others, it obviously is more commonplace in all professions than most of us realized and not just symptomatic of F&B.

As everyone should agree, sexual harassment doesn’t belong anywhere in any shape or form.


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