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Boston trial of celebrity chef Mario Batali on charge of indecent assault starts Monday

Chef Mario Batali arrived at Boston Municipal Court for jury selection in his trial on sexual misconduct allegations on Monday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The criminal trial of Mario Batali, the celebrity chef who is accused of groping and forcibly kissing a woman at a Boylston Street restaurant in 2017, is scheduled to start Monday at Boston Municipal Court.

Batali, who faces up to of 2½ years in county jail if convicted, pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery during his 2019 arraignment.

Natali Tene has alleged that Batali sexually assaulted her while she tried to take a photo with the famous chef, whose television appearances included hosting ABC-TV’s “The Chew” and on “Iron Chef America.”

Through her attorney, Tene granted the Globe permission to publicly identify her as Batali’s accuser.

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A spokeswoman for the Suffolk District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the upcoming trial. Matthew Fogelman, an attorney representing Tene in a separate civil case filed in Suffolk Superior Court, also declined comment.

Attorneys for Batali did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend, but one of them, Anthony Fuller, has said the allegations are without merit.

“He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali,” Fuller said in a 2019 statement.

In 2017, Tene said she encountered the chef while they were both customers at Towne Stove and Spirits on Boylston Street that spring, according to court papers.

The location was close to Eataly Boston in the Prudential Center, which was then part of Batali’s restaurant portfolio.

Tene was eating dinner with a friend at the bar when she recognized Batali seated nearby. When she tried to take a photo of the well-known chef with her phone, he offered to take a selfie with Tene, according to court papers.

After Tene approached Batali, she alleged that he sexually assaulted her in the restaurant. She accused him of grabbing her breasts, forcibly kissing her, and putting his hands between her legs, according to the criminal complaint.

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Tene tried to pull away, but Batali kept “pulling on her face,” the Globe has previously reported.

“Batali told her he was staying at the Mandarin Oriental and asked if she wanted to join him there,” the criminal complaint said. “The victim told him no and went back to her friend.”

According to a filing in the civil suit, that behavior was “dehumanizing and humiliating” for Tene.

“Batali’s actions were without warning or permission, were unwarranted and disgusting, and made Ms. Tene feel shocked and highly uncomfortable,” the civil court filing said.

The start of the criminal case in Boston is the latest of a series of sexual assault complaints against Batali, a chef who was handpicked by former first lady Michelle Obama to oversee the Obama administration’s final state dinner in the White House in 2016.

The following year, the trade publication Eater published a report with allegations from several women who claimed Batali engaged in a pattern of inappropriate touching. Batali stepped away from his business following the allegations.

In 2018, the New York Times and CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” each reported on complaints against Batali of sexual assault. The following year, the New York Police Department closed investigations into sexual assault allegations against Batali because detectives could not find enough evidence to make an arrest, the Times reported.

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Last year, Batali, his business partner Joseph Bastianich, and their New York City-based restaurant company B&B Hospitality agreed to pay $600,000 in connection with a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office, which had looked into allegations of sexual harassment made against Batali in 2017, the office said in a statement.

Investigators found that Batali, Bastianich, and their company “engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, in violation of state and city human rights laws,” the statement said.

They fostered a “hostile work environment that permitted a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment” in their New York City restaurants, according to the statement.

The money would go to at least 20 former employees, according to the statement, plus the company had to revise training materials, and submit regular reports to the attorney general.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, in the statement, said Batali and his business partner allowed shameful behavior that was inappropriate in any setting.

“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator,” James said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.