Restaurant News & Reviews

Sexual harassment claims won’t keep celebrity chef John Besh from South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Celebrity chef John Besh is expected to participate in a $250-a-person South Beach Wine & Food event despite sexual harassment allegations that forced him to resign from his restaurant group this week.
Celebrity chef John Besh is expected to participate in a $250-a-person South Beach Wine & Food event despite sexual harassment allegations that forced him to resign from his restaurant group this week. AP

A trail of sexual harassment claims that forced celebrity chef John Besh to resign from his eponymous restaurant group Monday will not affect his appearance at February’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

His sold-out event alongside celebrity chef Scott Conant on Feb. 24 will go on, a festival spokesperson said, despite allegations that have led several other companies to cut ties with him after the New Orleans Times-Picayune published an explicit, monthslong investigation Oct. 21.

“We are saddened by the news and feel badly for all those affected. John is a fan favorite and longtime supporter of the Festival,” Devonie Nicholas, the festival media manager, wrote the Miami Herald in an email.

“We do not anticipate” the allegations will affect Besh’s presence at the $250 a person event, she said.

During that eight-month investigation, 25 current and former employees told the Times-Picayune they were victims of sexual abuse while working at Besh Restaurant Group, a 1,200-employee empire with 12 restaurants across two states.

Two women filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One was the company’s social media manager whose complaint stated “vulgar and offensive comments, aggressive un-welcomed touching and sexual advances were condoned and sometimes even encouraged by managers and supervisors” throughout the Besh Restaurant Group.

Another woman, in a separate complaint, leveled her claims directly at Besh, 49, with whom she said she had a long-running affair. She wrote that when she ended the relationship with the married father of four boys that he “continued to attempt to coerce [her] to submit to his sexual overtures.”

Besh “insisted [she] drink heavily,” and muscled his way into her hotel room during a work trip, according to the EEOC complaint in the Times-Picayune, then “immediately started to kiss and fondle” her. The complaint goes on to say she “was barely conscious, and easily overwhelmed by JBesh [sic], who engaged in oral sex and fell asleep” beside her.

The reaction was swift against Besh, a two-time James Beard Award winner, including for Best Chef: South/Southeast. Harrah’s casino in New Orleans, which had been home to his Besh Steak restaurant since 2003, announced Sunday it cut ties with him. And New Orleans public television station WYES pulled Besh’s two cooking shows, according to the Advocate.

Besh resigned Monday, admitting his “moral failings” in an affair with the woman who filed the EEOC complaint but calling the relationship consensual.

“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,” he told the Times-Picayune.

Carlos Frías: 305-376-4624, @Carlos_Frias

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