Celebrity Chef John Besh Leaves Company After 25 Allegations Of Harassment

Originally published on October 27, 2017 9:14 am

Sexual misconduct isn't just a Hollywood problem, is not just a problem in media companies or in politics — it's also a problem in the restaurant industry.

This week celebrity chef John Besh left his company after it was revealed in an investigation by The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com that 25 women — all current and former employees — said they were victims of sexual harassment while working for the Besh Restaurant Group.

Besh is a James Beard winner, owns a dozen restaurants and has a couple of TV shows, but departed after this investigation alleging a culture permissive of harassment was published. Restaurant critic Brett Anderson started investigating the allegations against Besh and his company last February. He joins All Things Considered host Kelly McEvers to talk about how he got started and what he found out after talking to the 25 women who say they were sexually harassed.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On how the investigation started

It was just prompted by a tip I'd heard from a friend, who had told me — it was last February, it was during Mardi Gras season — that a mutual acquaintance of ours had quit her job in the executive office of the Besh Restaurant Group. She told me that she had quit her job in a resignation letter that she emailed to John and his partner, as well as some other managers. And in that email she had alleged that their company harbored a culture of sexual harassment.

On the allegations against John Besh himself

The 25 women that I mentioned in my story, the great majority of those women, worked in the restaurants that were operated by the Besh Restaurant Group — so those women did not have much interaction with John Besh himself.

I did hear complaints about Besh himself, including an [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] complaint ... a woman who used to work for the Besh restaurant group said she had a sexual relationship with John, and that it was in her words "unwelcome." She describes specific instances of being with him on work trips where she felt ... "overwhelmed," was one of the words she used.

On sexual harassment in the restaurant industry

The great majority of the people that I spoke with had worked in restaurants prior to working at the John Besh Restaurant Group, and almost all of them would tell me something along the lines of "you know, I got thick skin." They were saying that working in restaurants, they expected some butt-slapping, they expected to be harassed to a certain degree. I found that sort of striking, because they were in a sense admitting to me that they were going to work every day, assuming they were most likely going to be degraded. But I also asked all of these people if what they experienced at the Besh Group was different than what they experienced elsewhere — and all but a handful, one or two, said that it was a degree worse.

On what has happened since the story's publication

I have not heard from anyone there in any kind of official capacity. We did confirm that John had stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the company, which to me is the most consequential response. They have hired a human resources professional who started a few weeks before our story was published. But they're suggesting that they're taking the allegations that appeared in the story seriously.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We know it happens, and now we are hearing about it in a way we haven't before. Sexual misconduct and harassment isn't just a Hollywood problem. It isn't just a problem in media companies or in politics. This week, a celebrity chef left his company after it was revealed that 25 women, current and former employees, said they were victims of sexual harassment. The chef is John Besh. He's a James Beard winner with a dozen restaurants and a couple of TV shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN BESH: A meal is so much more than dinner. It's an opportunity to slow down and spend time in the kitchen with the people you love.

MCEVERS: Besh's departure came after an investigation published by The Times-Picayune and nola.com. It was written by restaurant critic Brett Anderson, who is with us now from New Orleans. Welcome to the show.

BRETT ANDERSON: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: So you started this investigation eight months ago. What prompted it? What had you been hearing?

ANDERSON: You know, it was just prompted by a tip I'd heard from a friend who had told me - it was last February; it was during Mardi Gras season - that a mutual acquaintance of ours had quit her job in the executive office of the Besh Restaurant Group. And you know, she told me that she had quit her job in a resignation letter that she emailed to John and his partner as well as some other managers. And in that email, she had alleged that their company harbored a culture of sexual harassment.

MCEVERS: I want to play a clip of tape from FOX 8 in New Orleans. It's from an interview with a former Besh Group employee named Maggie Moore. She described regularly getting comments about what she wore and how she looked. And then she described being at a bar with Besh during a business trip. Here's that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAGGIE MOORE: He asked me if I would come back to his hotel room with him. And I told him no. And he kept insisting, kept wanting me to come back with him - insisted on no. And then he just stormed out of the bar.

MCEVERS: And this woman was eventually fired. And how does her story compare to what you read in official complaints and what you heard from the women that you spoke to?

ANDERSON: The 25 women that I mentioned in my story - the great majority of those women worked in the restaurants that were operated by the Besh Restaurant Group. So those women did not have much interaction with John Besh himself. I did hear complaints about Besh himself, including an EEOC complaint.

MCEVERS: EEOC - that's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What were some more of the details in the complaint to the EEOC?

ANDERSON: A woman who used to work for the Besh Restaurant Group said she had a sexual relationship with John and that it was, in her words, unwelcome. And she describes specific instances of being with him on work trips where she felt overwhelmed - was one of the words that she used.

MCEVERS: And what about the culture at the restaurants from what people told you?

ANDERSON: The great majority of the people that I spoke with had worked in restaurants prior to working at the John Besh Restaurant Group. And almost all of them would tell me something along the lines of, you know, I got thick skin, you know? They were saying that working in restaurants - they expected some butt slapping. They expected to be harassed to a certain degree.

And I found that sort of striking because they were in a sense admitting to me that they were going to work every day assuming they were most likely going to be degraded. But I also asked all of these people if what they experienced at the Besh Group was different than what they experienced elsewhere, and all but a handful - one or two - said that it was a degree worse.

MCEVERS: And so he has stepped down. And how has the Besh Group responded to your reporting?

ANDERSON: I have not heard from anyone there in any kind of official capacity. We did confirm that John had stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the company, which to me is the most consequential response. They have hired a human resources professional who started a few weeks before our story was published. But they're suggesting that they're taking the allegations that appeared in the story seriously.

MCEVERS: Thanks so much for talking to us today.

ANDERSON: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: Brett Anderson is a restaurant critic and features writer with The Times-Picayune. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.