The dominoes continue to fall for serial sexual harassers, this time reaching beyond Hollywood and Silicon Valley to the culinary world, long been a bastion of bad behavior. Celebrity chef and TV personality John Besh, who specializes in the cuisine of Southern Louisiana, has stepped down from the titular Besh Restaurant Group amid sexual harassment allegations from 25 women that have come to light since accusations earlier this month against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein appeared to have broken the dam, unleashing a barrage of complaints against men in power across industries.
Not only do several of the allegations from current and former female employees of his restaurants allege that Besh harassed them, but women who spoke out said that he fostered an environment in which other male employees harassed women freely, according to The Times-Picayune.
"Women described a company where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance and - in a few cases - tried to leverage positions of authority for sex," according to statements from women who said they were harassed while employed by Besh, reported the Times-Picayune.
Besh, 49, has been married to his wife Jennifer Besh since 1991 and has four children with her. He rose to fame in his native Louisiana and has starred in several food-themed shows including, ironically, John Besh's Family Table, Top Chef Masters, and Chef John Besh's New Orleans. But following allegations that he pressured various female employees into having sex with him while ignoring the deplorable behavior of male employees at his company, he may go down as famous for something other than his signature oyster and duck gumbo.
The environment of harassment was so pervasive at Besh's restaurants that several of the women who filed complaints also alleged that other female employees had warned them to beware of "handsy" male supervisors, reported Times-Picayune. But rather than firing male employees who grabbed women without consent, the women who complained of sexual harassment were often met with retaliation from other employees. One woman who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that she was coerced into a sexual relationship with Besh said that employees retaliated against her when she tried to end it with the boss man.
The woman, whose name is redacted from the complaint, gave details about a particular incident that occurred on a work trip to Los Angeles in 2015 when Besh "insisted (she) drink heavily" during a work event and then followed her to her hotel room where he "immediately started to kiss and fondle" her, she said. The complaint further alleged that she "was barely conscious, and easily overwhelmed by JBesh (sic), who engaged in oral sex and fell asleep."
Besh's business partner Octavio Mantilla took an all-too-familiar route and chose not to believe the women who claimed sexual harassment.
"There was never any inkling of that kind of culture that you describe. That makes me feel comfortable to say I believe our values are otherwise," Mantilla said, responding to the allegations. He went on to say that the 25 women who came forth to claim they were sexually harassed under his employ represented a tiny fraction of the thousands of people he's employed throughout the years. Putting aside the fact that the number of people who report sexual harassment represents a fraction of those who've actually been harassed, Mantilla sent a clear message to those 25 women that out of the thousands he's employed, they don't matter.
Mantilla's refusal to acknowledge the culture of harassment at his company and to further demean the women who were harassed by breaking it down into a numbers game is further complicated by Besh's admission that he began an affair with an employee, an abuse of power if ever there were one. Besh admitted to a clear abuse of power in the following statement:
"Two years ago, I deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team. Since then I have been seeking to rebuild my marriage and come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith. I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do.
Despite his admission of engaging in a relationship with an employee, clearly his junior since he's the boss, Besh also appeared dumbfounded by the allegations that he had fostered an environment rife with sexual harassment.
"I've tried to build a culture based on valuing people," Besh said. "I would not characterize the values of this company in the way you just described."