Excuse me while I go sift through all those photos I have stored in shoe boxes from the early 2000s.
The food world is is aflutter with news of Mario Batali’s sexual harassment allegations. I’m pretty sure nobody else has come to the surface with hard images just yet, but let me share this one with you and the backstory in the hopes that men are held accountable for their actions. If you’re wondering why the doodles, I’m still looking for the hard copy of the image, but I had this version stored on my computer from ages ago when I sent it to co-workers with a message along the lines of “I wonder if he’ll ever get called out for being a creep, and not just for wearing orange crocs.” Was it mature of me? No. Was I wondering when his behavior would catch up with him? Definitely.
It took 13 years.
The year this photo was taken was 2004. I was 20 and had recently moved to Manhattan from South Florida. Everything was still fresh and new and exciting for me in New York, and all the parties, people, and places to go were all worth staying out for. I was fairly innocent and completely naive, and was invited by my friends of those days to the opening night party for Spice Market, the newest and trendiest restaurant to be seen at in those times. I still carried a disposable camera in my purse. That’s where I was with my life. I didn’t eat there that night, but was genuinely impressed by all the celebrity faces popping around the room of that dimly-lit Meatpacking District, and noted to my date that night that I spotted Mario Batali.
These were the early days of the Food Network, and only cooking fanatics and genuine food fans had any idea who the hell Mario was. His celebrity status at that point was minor, so instead of running to an A-lister, I felt somewhat less intimidated by Mario, ran to him to ask for a photo by the door, and handed my disposable Rite-Aid camera off for a snap. Mario taught me about how to season the pasta water, how to make a quick dinner, and the finer details of picking a good Italian cheese. He couldn’t be a creep. He was a dad in the kitchen, teaching us all how to cook simple Italian dishes while touching us with lighthearted stories of his family. He was a safe guy to approach for a brag-worthy celebrity photo.
What I expected to be a single moment for a photo turned into him expecting much, much more. He quickly grabbed me, pulled me tight against his body, and lifted my shirt with his hand. I nervously laughed (which is likely when this photo was snapped), started to shimmy away, and he pulled me back in for “a better pic.” I said we already got one, but he was drunk-ish and I had half a glass of champagne in me (scold me for underage drinking if you want) and my response time wasn’t the fastest. Before I knew it, his hands were INSIDE my shirt and he had touched my breasts. My date was on the curb with the camera yelling “Okay, okay, let’s go, it’s enough!”
Mario tried one more time to get me back, saying something about going back in the restaurant. I remember being genuinely nervous at that point and ran across the cobblestone streets in my little of-that-moment stiletto heels just trying to get away from him. Slightly drunk me (anyone who knows me will tell you that half a glass of anything is enough to leave me tipsy), yelled back at him angrily.
“YOUR WIFE PROBABLY DOESN’T LIKE THIS.”
But the truth was that I just didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t like it. He didn’t know my name, but he felt comfortable lifting my shirt and grabbing my breasts? He had never met me, I didn’t consent to that, and I tried to tell him to please stop. Why weren’t the words “please stop” enough?
From what I’ve heard of my female friends in the food business, the chef world is dirtier than Hollywood by a mile, and Mario’s hands on my boobs were nothing compared to what female kitchen and waitstaff have always known.
It’s time to do better, isn’t it? And give me a minute to sort through those old shoe boxes of pictures — I’m pretty sure I’ll find the original of this photo soon.
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