Disgraced US chef Mario Batali surrenders restaurants


New York (AFP)

US celebrity chef Mario Batali has sold his stake in all of his restaurants after being accused of sexual assault by several women, the businesses announced Wednesday.

"We wanted to let you all know that Mario is now fully divested from our businesses. This week, we acquired all of his interests in our restaurants," decades-long Batali partners Tanya and Joe Bastianich wrote in a letter to employees seen by AFP.

The siblings confirmed the dissolution of the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, estimated to be worth $250 million, and the subsequent creation of a new company.

Batali, who often refers to his Italian heritage for culinary inspiration, also negotiated the sale of his part in the chain of gargantuan Eataly food stores, which no longer sell his line of sauces or his 11 cookbooks.

New York police closed an investigation into 58-year-old Batali in January without filing charges.

An employee accused him last year of having assaulted her in 2005 at one of his 26 restaurants, The Spotted Pig, a fashionable New York spot favorited by celebrities.

The woman, who chose to remain anonymous, claimed the chef drugged her and assaulted her, adding that when she came to there was semen on her clothing.

She went to hospital and called the police, but ultimately decided against filing a complaint and the physical evidence produced at the hospital wasn't kept.

Batali denies the allegations.

An employee at The Spotted Pig claimed to have witnessed a similar incident in 2008 through the restaurant's security cameras in which employees had to intervene to stop an assault against a woman who was unconscious.

The once-prestigious chef, known for his red ponytail and orange Croc shoes, had already been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.

Those allegations led him to apologize publicly for making "many mistakes" and to take a sidelined role at his businesses and leave "The Chew" television program, but he initially hung on to the restaurants.