A woman who says she was sexually assaulted by celebrity chef Mario Batali took the stand Monday on the first day of his criminal trial in Boston, testifying that he groped her during an impromptu selfie session in 2017.
Natali Tene said she posed for photos with Batali as he took advantage of the star-stricken patron off-screen as she stood close to him for the photos.
“His right hand is all over my breasts, all the way over my butt, all the way between my legs,” Tene said. “I’ve never been so gripped… I squeezed my vagina and pulled me closer to him. As if that’s a normal way to bring someone in.”
According to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Batali is charged with indecent assault and assault related to groping at a Boston restaurant.
He denied the charges and pleaded not guilty. Defense attorney Anthony Fuller said in his opening statement Monday, “The photos and videos do not support her testimony.”
Batali waived his right to a jury trial in favor of a trial in court, which the judge accepted. He was charged in 2019 and is facing a civil suit over the same incident.
Multiple allegations against Batali — a chef and restaurateur who appeared in television cooking shows for more than two decades — surfaced in 2017 after the restaurant news website Eater reported four stories of women claiming that Batali had “inappropriately touched them in a pattern of behavior that seems to span at least two decades.”
Batali stepped out of the public eye in the wake of the allegations, and his restaurant group cut ties with him in 2018.
The New York Police Department also reviewed allegations of sexual misconduct against Batali, but closed the two investigations in 2019 without bringing charges.
The evening began, Tene testified Monday, when she met a friend around 9 p.m. on March 31, 2017 at Towne Stove and Spirits, a Boston restaurant that the couple frequented.
Tene recognized Batali sitting next to her at the bar around midnight, she said. Batali was a few seats away when she secretly tried to snap a picture of him on her phone, she testified.
Tene said her boyfriend told her that Batali caught her sneaking the photo and wanted her to come over, presumably to have the photo taken down. Tene walked over to Batali and apologized, she said, and promised to delete the photo if he wanted to.
“He said, ‘No, it was fine, don’t worry, let’s take some selfies instead,'” Tene testified.
Tene took about 10 selfies with her phone around 12:37 p.m., she said, and their heads, faces, shoulders and anything that could fit in the frame were visible.
“He has his face pressed to mine and he is pulling my body closer to his,” she said.
“He kisses the side of my face. He put his other arm behind me,” Tene said when the photos were shown in the courtroom. She noted that they took a few pictures and said they weren’t good because they weren’t looking at the camera.
“His hands were in sensitive areas, touching me, touching my body,” she said. “It was like a selfie, but other things were happening at the same time… His other hand which cannot be seen is touching my body in sensitive areas.”
Batali kept asking for more selfies to be taken and you can be heard asking “Does that work” in one of the live photos, she said.
“It all happened so quickly and it happened all the time, in different parts,” Tene said, summarizing the ways Batali allegedly grabbed her. “To be honest, I stiffened a bit. Put on a smile to de-escalate the situation. A little nervous, shocked, alarmed,” she said.
Tene noted that Batali’s eyes were not open in some of the photos and he reeked of alcohol, she testified. “This man was wasted, for lack of a better term,” Tene said.
Batali then allegedly asked Tene to come to his hotel room, she testified, saying she got chills when he asked.
“Something like, mortified, disgusted,” Tene said. “That feeling that this wasn’t right. Overall this was very uncomfortable.”
Tene left and went back to her house. She later told her boyfriend about the alleged attack, saying the couple agreed never to eat again at Eataly, an Italian food market owned by Batali at the time.
Tene later testified that she spoke to an Eater journalist and told her story after the reporter wrote a story about other women allegedly grabbed by Batali, Tene said.
Tene hired legal representation and filed a civil suit, she said, but says she is not looking for money.
“This happened to me and this is my life and I want to take control of what happened, come forward and say my piece,” Tene said.
Fuller, the defense attorney, questioned Tene and questioned her about the night of the alleged attack and her subsequent motives.
Fuller went through each of the photos Tene took of her and Batali, focusing on one photo that showed space between where they stood, emphasizing that the floor tile was visible in the photo between the two.
“He grabbed you, pulled you closer, didn’t he?” Fuller asked, saying there was about eight inches of space between the pair.
“He certainly was,” Tene replied.
“It doesn’t look like it in this photo,” Fuller said.
“He grabs my ass,” Tene said.
Fuller emphasized a time difference between the first batch of photos and the second batch, three minutes later. Fuller argued that the gap in time showed she was not in danger. He also challenged Tene on her facial expressions in the photos, saying it wasn’t a grimace as she testified, but a smile.
Tene was also questioned about eating at Batali-owned restaurants, though she told investigators in a statement that the thought of eating at those restaurants was disgusting. Fuller showed her bank statements showing that she had eaten at Eataly with a friend who was aware of the alleged attack.
Fuller also showed courtroom photos taken at the same bar, Towne Stove and Spirits, where the alleged assault took place, the night before Eater was due to publish a story detailing her allegations.
“Towne wasn’t the scary place, it was the scary person. I felt pretty comfortable there,” Tene replied when asked why she wasn’t triggered by being in the same place and coming back multiple times after the alleged attack.
Tene also challenged Fuller’s way of asking questions about financial motives and hiring legal advice.
“I’m not looking for anything, I’m not looking for a certain amount,” Tene said. “What other way is there to make up for this situation? I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
Fuller spent the rest of his cross-examination trying to determine inconsistencies in Tene’s story, talking about her alleged attempts to get under jury duty and claiming she laughed the incident off by texting her friends.
Prosecutors plan to call a witness Tuesday morning who they say heard Tene’s entire story about a week after the alleged tactile incident.