After chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella and his partners were named in a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed Monday, now begins the reckoning: Which businesses and organizations will cut ties with the former “Top Chef” contestant? Chloe Caras, a former manager at the chef’s company, Mike Isabella Concepts, alleged that Isabella and his partners called her “bitch” and “whore,” commented on the size of her buttocks and touched her without permission, The Washington Post reported on Monday. Separately, a sous chef told The Post that Isabella kissed her without her consent. Other allegations of misconduct include that Isabella’s company has named cocktails after its partners’ encounters with prostitutes.
The chef has denied the allegations. “Simply put, the allegations of an unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere are false,” Isabella, his partners and his company told The Post in a statement prepared by the Bascietto & Bregman law firm. “Harassment, discrimination, bullying, abuse, or unequal treatment of any kind whatsoever are not tolerated at MIC.”
But already, Isabella’s name has been dropped from the website of José Andrés’s annual Dine ‘n’ Dash fundraiser, according to This Family Meal, although two of his restaurants remain listed as participants. His longtime publicist, Jennifer Resick Williams, has scrubbed the chef’s name from her company’s website, Washingtonian reports.
Another organization grappling with a decision right now is the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which will host its annual RAMMY restaurant awards in June. Isabella’s Arroz is nominated for best new restaurant, and his restaurant G by Mike Isabella is in the running for favorite fast bites, a category determined by public vote. Chef Michael Rafidi is nominated for rising culinary star for work at Arroz and another Isabella restaurant, Requin. In 2015, George Pagonis, the Kapnos chef who is also named in the lawsuit, won the rising culinary star award. In 2016, Isabella was named restaurateur of the year.
But the RAMMYs are still deciding what to do with Isabella this year.
When asked whether Isabella is still eligible for awards, RAMW President Kathy Hollinger issued a statement to The Washington Post:
“Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington condemns harassment of any kind. The RAMMYS judges panel and the board of directors are separately discussing the judges’ evaluation criteria as it pertains to RAMW’s awards programs moving forward. Given the amount of care and sensitivity that goes into nominating a RAMMYS finalist, the panel will give that same level of input and consideration into making any changes. As this is not just one person’s decision, all of the entities involved will take the coming days to discuss how to best address these very serious allegations.”
The James Beard Awards changed its criteria this year in response to revelations of alleged sexual misconduct at top restaurants, including accusations of notable chefs John Besh and Mario Batali. In January, the foundation told its awards committee to consider chefs’ character when making their selections. “If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations,” read a directive sent to judges, Eater reported. That meant that such restaurants as the Spotted Pig, which the New York Times reported last year as having a “rape room,” were out of the running. It also resulted in a list that had more female Beard nominees than previous years. As for the RAMMYs, in the six categories where people are named individually for awards, 10 women and 25 men are nominated this year, about the same breakdown as in 2017.
More from Food: