NEW YORK: US celebrity chef Mario Batali pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of indecent assault and battery stemming from accusations that he groped a woman in a Boston restaurant in 2017.
Reporters flocked around Batali, who has been accused of sexual assault by several women, as he arrived at Boston Municipal Court. He made no comment before or after his arraignment.
The Seattle-born chef, 58, was released on his own recognizance and ordered to stay away from the alleged victim. The next hearing in the case was set for July 12.
Batali has faced a series of allegations since December 2017, but this was the first time he has been formally charged.
The case dates back to the first half of that year.
The accuser reportedly met the chef while they were dining separately at the same Boston restaurant, the Towne Stove and Spirits, not far from Batali’s restaurant Eataly.
Seeing that the young woman was trying to take a picture of him, Batali asked her to join him for a selfie. Once she was beside him, the chef allegedly kissed and groped her.
The name of Batali’s accuser does not appear in the indictment, according to The Boston Globe.
But the charges mirror allegations made in a civil case against Batali filed by a Massachusetts woman named Natali Tene, 28, who was claiming damages for an unspecified amount.
Tene’s lawyer, Eric Baum, confirmed she is the accuser.
“Mario Batali abused his celebrity status… while taking the photograph, Mario Batali groped her breasts, buttocks and genitals and kissed her repeatedly without consent,” Baum said in a statement.
“He must be held accountable criminally and civilly for his despicable acts.”
Batali’s lawyer Anthony Fuller said 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,” he told CNN.
The first charges Batali faced were published by the specialized site Eater in December 2017, as the #MeToo movement was gathering steam.
More accusations followed against the once-prestigious chef, known for his red ponytail and orange Croc shoes.
Those allegations led him to apologize publicly for making “many mistakes,” to take a sidelined role at his businesses and to leave “The Chew” television program aired on ABC.