Mario Batali pleads not guilty to assault and battery for alleged groping

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

Celebrity chef Mario Batali pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge connected to his allegedly groping and forcibly kissing a woman at a Boston restaurant.

Batali, 58, ignored journalists’ questions as he walked into the Boston Municipal Court. He had traded his signature orange Crocs for Adidas Yeezy sneakers, which he paired with a black blazer over a purple sweater and a baseball cap.

He removed the cap when he appeared before the judge for his arraignment on a charge of indecent assault and battery.

He was released on personal recognizance and does not have to appear at a scheduled July 12 pretrial hearing.

The accuser, Natali Tene, who has been identified by her lawyer, Eric M. Baum, has said she was with a friend at the since-closed Towne Stove and Spirits on Boylston Street in 2017 when she noticed the famous chef sitting near her. Tene said she took a selfie with him over her shoulder, according to an incident report.

Batali noticed and beckoned “come here now,” the report said. Tene apologized for taking the picture, but Batali told her it was fine, and offered to take a selfie with her.

When she got close enough to take the picture, Batali first put his arm around her and grabbed her breast, then grabbed her buttocks and pulled her in closer, the incident report said. He then proceeded to touch Tene’s groin over her clothing and “held her face” as he kissed her on the cheek and mouth.

“The victim realized Batali was intoxicated by the smell and half closed eyes,” the incident report said.

Tene “was uncomfortable and it was shocking to her that this was happening,” so she stopped taking pictures with Batali, but he kept insisting on taking more and pulling on her face. He then invited her to join him at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where he said he was staying, the incident report said. Tene declined.

When Tene rejoined her friend, he asked “who was that guy?” and “why was he being handsy with you?” the report said. She said she just wanted to leave, and they did.

Tene has also filed a lawsuit, which says Batali’s alleged actions were “dehumanizing” and “humiliating.”

“The criminal charges brought against him are independent of the ongoing civil lawsuit. Mr. Batali must be held accountable criminally and civilly for his despicable acts,” Tene’s lawyer, Baum, said in a statement. “Natali is grateful that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Boston has chosen to go forward in prosecuting Mario Batali on criminal charges of sexually assaulting her. In doing so, the DA’s Office has taken a strong stance in advocating on behalf of our client.”

An attorney speaking on Batali’s behalf, Anthony Fuller, said the chef denies the allegations in both the criminal and civil complaints brought by Tene.

“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit. He intends to fight the allegations vigorously, and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali,” Fuller said.

Tene was one of several alleged victims of Batali who came forward after four other women told Eater New York that Batali of groped them and made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. His alleged behavior spanned more than two decades.

In a statement at the time, Batali apologized and said the accusations described by the women “match up with the way [he has] acted.”

Following that December 2017 report, Tene told Eater, “I thought maybe I was alone, maybe it was an isolated incident. When I saw the news, I had this feeling like, ‘Yes, he’s being exposed as a creep’ — but also sadness and lots of anger that he got away with this behavior for so long.”

The chef, who was a host on ABC’s “The Chew,” and invested in more than a dozen restaurants, said he would step away from the “day-to-day operations of my businesses,” and was subsequently fired from “The Chew,” which was later canceled. The Food Network also canceled plans to relaunch “Molto Mario,” which first aired in 1996 and launched Batali to celebrity status.

Dec. 18, 201705:25

The New York Police Department opened a criminal investigation into Batali in 2018 but closed it early this year due to lack of evidence, NBC New York reported.

In March, Batali was bought out of his restaurant group, which operates about 20 restaurants in multiple states, Tanya Bastianich Manuali and Joe Bastianich of the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group said in a statement.

“I have reached an agreement with Joe and no longer have any stake in the restaurants we built together. I wish him the best of luck in the future,” Batali said in a statement at the time.

Eater reported Thursday that Batali is still an investor in Eataly and The Spotted Pig restaurant. Neither immediately responded to requests for comment Friday.