The Food Network has seen stars come and go over the years, but some stars left behind scandals that made a lasting impact. Between stars saying racial slurs or mistreating and abusing their employees, the network has faced any number of scandals. Not even the biggest, most beloved names on the network are free from blame.
Mario Batali was once one of the biggest stars that the Food Network had to offer. His empire began crumbling down after a series of scandals resulted in a class-action lawsuit, his firing from The Chew, as well as a police investigation into claims of sexual misconduct by the celebrity chef. The latter was dropped in 2019 after the NYPD determined it couldn’t find probable cause in order to press charges.
Shortly after the sexual harassment claims were made public in 2017, Batali issued an apology for his past actions, saying in a statement, “That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses,” adding, “I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation, or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends, and family.”
In July 2021, Batali, along with restaurateur Joe Bastianich, and the restaurant group formerly known as B&B Hospitality, was ordered to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees following an investigation by the New York State Attorney General into sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
A few years earlier, in 2010, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Batali by 117 people who’d worked in the chef’s restaurants. The suit accused Batali of illegally skimming tips in order to pay for his sommeliers. After fighting the suit for a few years, Batali eventually agreed to settle for $5.2 million dollars in 2012.
Beloved chef Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, courted controversy in 2011 after she twice turned down a Make-A-Wish kid’s request to cook a meal with her. The TV chef’s reasoning for skipping out on the activity was that she was too busy both times. The boy, who’d begun watching Garten’s show with his mother while resting in bed, even waited a year for Garten’s schedule to clear up, but no dice. After the boy’s family spoke with the media, Garten’s team quickly issued an invitation but it was too little, too late. The 6-year-old decided to swim with the dolphins instead.
In 2017, 25 current and former Besh Group employees claimed they’d been sexually harassed at work and that John Besh had fostered a toxic workplace. Besh was also specifically accused of harassment, including a harrowing account from one woman who claimed the celebrity chef had encouraged her to drink heavily during a work event, then followed her to her hotel room where he assaulted her.
These accusations created such a scandal around Besh that footage of him was edited out of two shows: an episode of Iron Chef Showdown and an episode of Bravo’s Top Chef.
As she battled a lawsuit from a former employee over accusations of sexual and racial harassment, Paula Deen admitted that, “Yes, of course,” she’d used the N-word. She denied, however, making racial jokes. She recalled that the last time she’d used the word had been some time ago when she was telling her husband about getting robbed by a Black man who’d pointed a gun at her head. “I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she remembered, speaking of the robber. She later apologized for using the slur, though the video has since been deleted.
MasterChef star Graham Elliot was sued over accusations that he’d mishandled his servers’ tips and eventually settled the case in 2012. The suit was filed by 14 former servers at his Chicago restaurant who accused the celebrity chef of illegally forcing them to pool their tips in order to pay food runners and chefs who otherwise wouldn’t be tipped. It’s unclear what the full amount of the settlement is.
Some scandals were bigger than others, but they all ultimately had an undeniable effect on each celebrity chef’s career. It’s surprising how often the stars of The Food Network find themselves facing lawsuits from former employees.