Celebrity chef Mario Batali accuser takes stand in sex assault trial

BOSTON (CBS) – Celebrity chef Mario Batali arrived at Boston Municipal Court Monday morning for jury selection in his sexual assault trial and then waived his right to a jury.

Batali, 61, faces a misdemeanor charge of indecent assault and battery for allegedly inappropriately touching and kissing a woman without her consent at Towne Stove and Spirits in the Back Bay in 2017. The alleged incident happened after the woman, described by attorneys as a former fan, took a selfie with Batali.

The charge was not formally presented to Batali until 2019. That’s when he was arraigned in Boston where he pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday, but Batali waived that right at the start of the session so Judge James Stanton will now decide his fate. Opening statements began a short time later.

Prosecutors described Batali as drunk during the incident, with slurred speech and smelling of alcohol. The woman, who said Batali invited her to his hotel room,  was “shocked” and “confused” by Batali’s alleged behavior.

Mario Batali in Boston Municipal Court, May 9, 2022. (WBZ-TV)

The woman accusing Batali said she had picture and video evidence to back up her claims. Batali’s attorney said the charges come “without merit.”

A defense attorney for Batali argued during opening statements that photo and video evidence “don’t show assault and battery.”

Batali’s attorney argued that his accuser is not credible and has a financial motive. The defense argued that the woman joked about the incident in text messages with friends and later returned to dine at Eataly despite the allegations.

Following opening statements, the alleged victim took the stand. She said the incident started when she took a photo of Batali over her shoulder and he noticed and caller her over to his table.

The woman said she offered to delete the photo, but he suggested they take selfies instead. That is when she said Batali inappropriately touched her.

A male friend who was with the woman later asked her “who was that guy grabbing you?,” she testified.

Batali, who had cooked at the White House for the Obamas, hosted several television shows, and built a food industry empire that at its peak, was worth an estimated $250 million.

He walked away from his ventures after several claims of sexual misconduct came out in 2017. The chef owned two restaurants in Boston before selling them. One was in the Seaport, the other was his stake in Eataly in the Prudential Center.

Just last year, Batali settled sexual misconduct cases for about $600,000 out of New York, according to the attorney general there.

WBZ-TV legal analyst Jennifer Roman said comments Batali made centering around those allegations could come up in this week’s trial.

“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 said.

Batali could face up to two-and-a-half years in jail if found guilty. The trial is expected to last several days.