Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, best known nationally for his Food Network show Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello and known in the Bay Area for his Napa restaurant Bottega and his three-year-old San Francisco tapas spot Coqueta, has now been accused by two former servers in a pair of sexual harassment lawsuits. One suit names Chiarello and the other names his restaurant group the first alleging that managers and chefs at Coqueta "engaged in a pattern and practice of inappropriate sexual comments, touching and other sex-related abuse," and the second alleging underpayment of wages, as the SF Chronicle is reporting. Chiarello is flatly denying that any of it happened.
The two servers who brought the suits, filed Tuesday, are Asja Sever and Katherine Page who each worked at Coqueta for two and three years respectively, and they describe patterns of fairly disgusting behavior in great detail by both Chiarello and executive chef Dominick Maietta, as well as other management-level employees. And this wasn't just limited to female employees the suit also describes Chiarello inappropriately touching and harassing a gay male employee.
The 20-page harassment suit, which also alleges failure to prevent harassment and infliction of emotional distress, additionally names general manager Mirko Galliani and assistant general manager Mark Peyer, both of whom have had their positions since September 2015.
Eater SF has both complaints online here, but the meat them appears to be in some specific instances such as the following:
- CHEF CHIARELLO frequently made inappropriate statements to the entire staff, including PAGE and SEVER, such as, "Martinis are like tits. One is too few, three is too many".
- On at least one occasion, he compared a new sandwich on the COQUETA menu to a vagina by stating that the sandwich looked liked a "woman's underparts" while making a triangle with his hands and placing it over his crotch.
- [CHEF CHIARELLO] directed COQUETA managers to employ the following hiring policy: "If you don't want to fuck them, don't hire them."
- CHEF CHIARELLO also regularly made sexual comments about female customers to his employees. For example, CHEF CHIARELLO informed another server that two female customers had left "snail trails" in their seats after speaking to CHEF CHIARELLO, implying that the women became sexually aroused after talking to CHEF CHIARELLO and left wet stains from their genitals on their chairs.
- More recently, in November 2015, CHEF CHIARELLO, in SEVER's presence and during one of his regular visits to COQUETA, held a baguette up to his crotch while making stroking motions over the bread with his hands in an overtly sexual manner.
And while restaurant kitchens are notoriously male-dominated environments rife with anger and coarse language, Page and Sever specifically call out instances in which Chiarello and Maietta were especially aggressive and offensive in their presence.
CHEF CHIARELLO was also unnecessarily aggressive in his interactions with PAGE and SEVER. For example, CHEF CHIARELLO placed his hand on PAGE’s back and aggressively shoved her while stating that COQUETA was his restaurant and that PAGE needed to “stay the fuck out of his way” or words to that effect when he was working the front line of the restaurant. Since then, PAGE has felt unsafe around CHEF CHIARELLO.
CHEF MAIETTA also sexually harassed both PAGE and SEVER and contributed to the hostile, sexually charged and abusive work environment at COQUETA. For example, in March 2015, he screamed at SEVER for not running food quickly enough and called her a “cunt” and a “lazy whore.” SEVER left the restaurant and immediately began having a panic attack. PAGE had to go outside to console SEVER as she was hysterically crying. In addition, CHEF MAIETTA regularly (and as recently as February 2016) used words like “gay”, “faggot”, “pussy”, “retard”, “asshole”, “Mexicans”, and “whores” while on shift at COQUETA
And there's the item about the former gay male server, which is especially odd.
For example, on or about September 28, 2015, a former gay male server was in the COQUETA restroom when he heard continuous knocks on the door and vigorous shaking of the door handle. When he exited the restroom, the former server found CHEF CHIARELLO standing outside. CHEF CHIARELLO asked, "Were you in there taking care of someone?" implying that the former server was sexually servicing someone in the bathroom. Approximately an hour later, CHEF CHIARELLO approached the former server and asked, "What were you doing in the bathroom, rubbing one out?" implying that he was masturbating in the bathroom. Later, during the same service, CHEF CHIARELLO approached this server from behind, rubbed his genitals and torso against his backside and reached around to pinch and twist his nipples. CHEF CHIARELLO then leaned in towards his ear and stated, "I'm getting myself ready to go home to my boyfriend."
Kelly Armstrong, the attorney representing the two women, who both quit their jobs at Coqueta last week, tells the Contra Costa Times that they were both courageous to come forward as they did. "This type of behavior to women is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. Unfortunately, restaurants are a hotbed for illegal activity of all different types."
For his part, Chiarello has made a statement through spokesperson Terry Fahn saying, "This claim flies in the face of who Mr. Chiarello is and how he has lived his life," and that he'll be "vigorously defend[ing] himself."
Did I mention that the name of the restaurant, Coqueta, means "flirt" in Spanish?