Celebrity chef John Besh and his namesake group Besh Restaurant Group have been embroiled in scandal after 25 employees accused the group of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and abuse.
Besh is a well-known figure in the US and has appeared on a number of television shows including Iron Chef, Top Chef and Top Chef Masters.
The James Beard-awarding-winning chef stepped down as CEO of Besh Restaurant Group just two days after the news broke.
Shannon White, BRG executive, has stepped in as CEO and issued a statement confirming Besh’s departure and his intent to step away from the group and “focus on his family”.
According to an eight-month investigation by The Times-Picayune, 25 current and former employees have claimed to be victims of sexual harassment at work. Besh’s group currently owns 12 restaurants throughout the South in the US and only recently created an HR department in early October.
Nine women gave permission for their names to the published in the expose by author/critic Brett Anderson, and describe the restaurant group as having a tolerance to and encouraging unwelcome sexual advances and verbal assault.
In the months before the revelations broke, two official complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A female employee alleges “I, and other similarly situated females, were harassed, sexually harassed, and verbally assaulted almost every day,” with “un-welcomed touching and sexual advances” that were “condoned and sometimes encouraged by managers and supervisor”.
In the other complaint, a former employee says she engaged in a “long-term unwelcome sexual relationship” with Besh, alleging he once engaged in sexual activity with her during a time when she “was barely conscious”. The employee also claims she faced retaliation when she attempted to end the relationship.
Raymond Landry, Besh Restaurant Group’s general counsel, addressed the issue in a statement to The Times-Picayune: “We have learned recently that a number of women in our company feel that we have not had a clear mechanism in place to allow them to voice concerns about receiving the respect they deserve on the job.
“While we’ve had a complaint procedure in place that complies with all existing laws, we now recognise that, as a practical matter, we needed to do more than what the law requires and we have revamped our training, education and procedures accordingly.”
The statement also claims the Besh Group had never received any internal complaints regarding sexual harassment.
Besh also issued a statement, describing his relationship with the aforementioned female employee as a “consensual” relationship with a “member of my team”.
Image credit: Chef John Besh