Chef John Besh steps down amidst controversy

Chef John BeshOn Saturday the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a shocking account of sexual harassment allegations against lauded New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh. Two days after the story broke, Besh resigned as head of Besh Restaurant Group (BRG), the company he founded. BRG executive Shannon White will assume the duties of chief executive officer. Besh has not said what he will do with his ownership stake in the company. 

Twenty-five women told The Times-Picayune their stories, which included vulgar comments made by male coworkers, unwanted sexual advances, and claims of retaliation. The women’s accounts pointed to a culture of harassment “where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance and – in a few cases – tried to leverage positions of authority for sex.”

Another celebrity chef connected to Besh’s restaurant empire, Alon Shaya, says he was fired after coming forward in support of the women. “I do feel like I was fired for talking … and for standing up,” he said. Shaya was in the midst of a contentious split with Besh. In September, the chefs made a surprise announcement that their James Beard Award-winning partnership was coming to an end. At the time, there was no suggestion that the split had anything to do with claims of harassment. 

Shaya claims that he frequently asked Besh and BRG managing partner Octavio Mantilla to set up a human resources department to handle personnel matters including sexual harassment claims. Until October 11, BRG had no such department, making it a challenge for workers to report harassment or for management to appropriately respond to it. 

In addition to his restaurant empire, Besh was a bestselling author with five cookbooks under his belt. Shaya’s first cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel, is named after his eponymous restaurant. In July, Eater reported that the book’s anticpated release date is March, 2018. Whether this controversy will hinder or help the book’s sales remains to be seen. 

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  • TrishaCP  on  October 24, 2017

    The accounts of what these women had to face, just to do their jobs, is absolutely sickening. This type of (Bourdain called it "meathead"- I have other less polite words for it) culture needs to change, and fast.

  • Rinshin  on  October 24, 2017

    Totally disgusted. I sure bought into wholesome family man image of besh with a wife and two adorable sons who he claimed love cooking breakfast every morning. And have all his books.

  • annmartina  on  October 24, 2017

    We've been to New Orleans 3 times recently and eaten at Shaya and Willa Jean. I too bought into the wholesome family man, passionate about New Orleans recovery post-Katrina, family-oriented bookbooks, all-around good guy. I'm so disappointed he isn't a better man and didn't work to foster an appropriate work atmosphere. Evidently it's been a well-known "secret" in the NOLA restaurant industry for at least a decade. Willa Jean's co-partner and chef is a woman and I haven't seen any comment from her. It's been said that Willa Jean is an extremely friendly workplace for women. It's interesting that it opened about two years ago. Maybe an attempt on his part to make some kind of atonement? Who knows. In the meantime BRG and Alon Shaya are in a legal battle over the Shaya name. Maybe this is one battle BRG needs to concede in order to not continue looking like a bully. I heard a prediction that the name of the Weinstein company will have to change; I'm wondering if the same will be need to happen for the Besh Restaurant Group.

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