Woman testifies against chef Mario Batali in sexual misconduct case

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

(BOSTON) — A woman who accused celebrity chef and restauranteur Mario Batali of groping her said Monday she was speaking out “to be able to take control of what happened,” while a defense attorney for Batali called her a liar who is twisting the truth “for money and for fun.”

Natali Tene, 32, alleged Batali, 61, forcibly kissed her and grabbed her breasts, buttocks and groin after meeting him in a Boston bar while having a drink with a friend in March 2017. Batali, she claimed, was “grabbing me in ways I had never been touched before, squeezing between my legs … pulling me closer to him.”

Batali has said he is not guilty of the allegations. At the start of the trial on Monday in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, Batali told Judge James Stanton he wanted to waive his right to a jury trial, which means Stanton will render the verdict directly.

The alleged assault took place after the accuser asked the chef for a selfie. He smelled of alcohol and appeared intoxicated, she alleged. Tene has also filed a civil complaint for unspecified damages based on the same allegations that will be tried separately from this case.

If found guilty, Batali could face nearly three years in prison and be forced to register as a sex offender.

Under cross-examination from attorney Anthony Fuller, Tene repeatedly said she did not remember text messages she sent friends that described her meeting Batali as “exciting.” In one message, she purportedly suggested to a friend that she could “hopefully” get $10,000 for photos of the encounter.

“I really, honestly thought this is how it all worked. I thought [with] celebrities, when they get in trouble, that’s how it works,” she said. “$10,000 is just an arbitrary number to me.”

Fuller characterized Tene as uncredible and flatly denied that the encounter took place.

“The defense in this case is very simple: It didn’t happen,” he said. The photo evidence “[does] not show any indecent assault and battery.”

In his questioning of Tene, he also referenced her claim that she is clairvoyant, an answer she used to allegedly get out of jury selection in a previous criminal trial.

Four women accused Batali of inappropriate touching in December 2017, which prompted him to leave the ABC daytime cooking show The Chew and remove himself from his restaurant business. In a statement following the accusations, Batali said he was “so very sorry” for disappointing his friends, family, co-workers and fans.

“My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility,” he said at the time.

Batali’s company paid a $60,000 settlement following a state investigation that alleged the company promoted a sexualized culture that violated multiple human rights laws.

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