Star Chef Besh Steps Down Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
October 23, 2017USshare
Star Chef Besh Steps Down Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations
In this May 31, 2015 file photo, chef John Besh attends the Supper to benefit the Global Fund to fight AIDS in New York. (Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)

NEW ORLEANS—New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from the restaurant group that bears his name after a newspaper reported that 25 women who are current or former employees of the business said they were victims of sexual harassment by male co-workers and bosses.

New Orleans media outlets said Besh’s departure from the business he co-owns was announced to employees Monday. The allegations were published Saturday by NOLA.com|The Times Picayune after an eight-month investigation. Women interviewed said male bosses in the Besh Restaurant Group touched or verbally harassed them and, in a few cases, tried to leverage positions of authority for sex.

Besh acknowledged a sexual relationship with an employee, saying in a written statement to NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune that it was consensual, despite the woman’s assertions in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she felt pressured.

NTD Photo
John Besh attends the Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite featuring Samsung culinary demonstrations presented by MasterCard—Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE at Pier 94 in New York City on Oct. 17, 2015 . (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

The developments came as sexual harassment allegations have been dogging other famous men, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former Fox News executive Roger Ailes and comedian Bill Cosby.

Repercussions from the Besh story were being felt even before the allegations were published. Last month, Alon Shaya, a star chef who rose up through the Besh Group ranks, was dismissed as executive chef at Domenica, Pizza Domenica and his critically acclaimed namesake restaurant, Shaya.

Shaya had contacted NOLA.com in August regarding his concerns on how sexual harassment allegations were handled. “I do feel like I was fired for talking … and for standing up,” Shaya said in a follow-up interview Oct. 17. Current and former staff, meanwhile, said in the article and in social media that Shaya did not do enough to stop sexual harassment at the restaurants he ran.

NTD Photo
Chef Alon Shaya speaks during the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By Coca-Cola at Spring Studios in New York City on Oct. 14, 2017. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

On Sunday, Harrah’s New Orleans Casino said it was severing ties with Besh and would rename its Besh Steak restaurant in the casino.

Nine women interviewed for the NOLA.com story agreed to the use of their names, including Madie Robison.

“After being immersed in the culture of the company, I realize my morals and values do not align with the daily practices,” Robison wrote in a resignation email, sent to Besh, his business partner Octavio Mantilla and others.

In multiple interviews, Robison’s complaints included persistent, sexualized comments from peers and supervisors. Robison claimed she also endured the uninvited touching of Mantilla for almost the entirety of her two years at the Besh Group.

Mantilla said he doesn’t remember touching Robison. “I don’t remember touching her at all, not on intention or anything,” he said.

A Besh Group spokesman said none of the thousands of current or former employees has ever filed an internal complaint alleging sexual harassment in the company’s 12 years of existence. Besh and Mantilla said during an Oct. 16 interview that in the past the company had lacked a human resources department to process such claims. The company has one now—its first ever director of human resources took the job Oct. 11, the spokesman told NOLA.com.

In his separate, written statement to NOLA.com, Besh said he was working to “rebuild my marriage” and publicly apologized to employees “who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do.”

“I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings,” he added. “This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father.”

NTD Photo
Chef John Besh of Restaurant August speaks during Mercedes-Benz Celebrates 125 Years at the James Beard House in New York City on Nov. 8, 2011. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz)

Raymond Landry, an attorney for the restaurant group, gave the news outlet a written statement as well, not mentioning specific allegations, but saying the company is implementing a better procedure for receiving and dealing with complaints.

“While we’ve had a complaint procedure in place that complies with all existing laws, we now recognize that, as a practical matter, we needed to do more than what the law requires and we have revamped our training, education and procedures accordingly,” Landry’s statement said.

Associated Press

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