Four former female employees are accusing celebrity pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini of sexual harassment during his tenure at Jean Georges in NYC. In a series of interviews, the two pastry chefs and two externs, who choose to remain anonymous, reveal to Mic the inappropriate behavior plaguing the heralded Michelin-starred restaurant from 2009 to 2011.
One pastry chef describes how Iuzzini would unexpectedly come up behind her and stick his tongue in her ear on multiple occasions. "I cried every time," she confesses, explaining that she eventually left the restaurant due to his behavior.
The other employees recount more of Iuzzini's habits, including assigning derogatory nicknames to his female cooks, such as "Kimchi" for an Asian woman. They also claim he forced them to give him shoulder massages at the end of their shifts, in addition to showing one of them a photo of a woman's genitals. One chef recalls an instance when Iuzzini walked up behind her in the walk-in and started simulating sexual intercourse with her; Mic also reports Iuzzini started a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old before hiring her as an extern the next day.
Reports state that Iuzzini's behavior has also turned violent at least on one occasion, when he allegedly threw an empty canister of liquid nitrogen at a female cook. "She quit the next day," the sources state.
During the time of the incidents, Philippe Vongerichten—brother of Jean-Georges and director of operations at the restaurant—asked one of the victims to file a report, but she chose to resign instead in fear of retribution from Iuzzini. "This is going to screw up my career," she tells Mic. "He knew everybody. And if I ever wanted to get a job in a restaurant, I'm going to burn every bridge that I have. And when you're surrounded by that, you don't [report it]."
Iuzzini, however, denies all the allegations made in the investigation, claiming many of them are either inaccurate or incidents he does not recall. "None were meant to hurt people," he says in a statement to the publication. "I began working in kitchens when I was 15 years old, back in a time when it was rare to see women in the kitchen, and behavior was more bawdy than professional. . . . This was the behavior I learned as a boy, and for too many years participated in during my restaurant career. And it was wrong."
When the celebrity pastry chef left Jean Georges in 2011 to begin a more media-focused career as a judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts, the female employees allege that Jean Georges's management was aware of Iuzzini's misconduct, but not to the extent that was described in Mic's story. Though, if the John Besh scandal is any example, sexual harassment is a deep-rooted issue even celebrated Michelin-star restaurants, whose kitchens are supposed to be run to a three-star standard, aren't immune to.