CHICAGO: Celebrity chef John Besh, who as the face of New Orleans cuisine fed world leaders and appeared on American TV programs, has stepped down from his company after women complained that sexual harassment was rife at his restaurants.
Besh acknowledged an extra-marital affair but denied the existence of an abusive culture at his 1,200-employee company where women alleged widespread harassment by male staff and that they had little recourse to complain or stop the behaviour.
The revelations were the latest in a long list after explosive sex abuse claims against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein earlier this month opened the floodgates.
Scores of women and some men have come forward to allege harassment in various industries and areas of public life — from fashion to entertainment and politics.
Besh rose to fame as the culinary face of a rebuilding New Orleans — a city known for its food culture — following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
He won a prestigious James Beard regional award for best chef in the US Southeast, served food to world leaders such as Joe Biden, and appeared with former first lady Michelle Obama.
His downfall was swift, coming just two days after a local newspaper published a damning expose, leading to his stepping down from his company on Monday, the severing of business ties and TV show cancellations.
The Times-Picayune reported that 25 women claimed they were victims of sexual harassment by employees of Besh Restaurant Group, which operates 12 restaurants.
Many said male co-workers and supervisors engaged in unwanted touching, made inappropriate comments, and at times attempted to use their power to coerce women for sex.
Besh acknowledged a sexual affair but denied allegations of widespread harassment.
“I have to deal with the fact that I was not the best human being that I could be, that I had made mistakes, but even with the worst that I had ever been, I have never sexually harassed or tolerated such,” he told the newspaper.
Other culinary world figures called for reforms in the industry.
“The beginning of the end of institutionalized Meathead Culture in the restaurant business,” tweeted celebrity TV chef Anthony Bourdain.
“Harassment is not just a part of ´kitchen culture´ – the restaurant industry does not get a pass,” said high-profile chef Alon Shaya, who claimed he was fired by Besh´s company for speaking to The Times-Picayune.