Bay Area-based celebrity chef faces lawsuits alleging sexual harassment

FILE - This Nov. 23, 2013 file photo shows Chef Michael Chiarello, of Bottega restaurant gestures before the start of an East meets West cooking battle in St. Helena, Calif. Chiarello is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and refusal to pay his employees their due wages. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello faces two lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and refusal to pay his employees their due wages.

Two former servers of Chiarello’s high-end tapas restaurant Coqueta filed lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging a work environment that was hostile and sexually charged.

A spokesman for Chiarello, Terry Fahn, called the allegations unfounded and said the chef would vigorously defend himself.

Chiarello has hosted cooking and entertainment shows on the Food Network and Cooking Channel, and appeared on the popular competition show “Top Chef,” according to his website.

Attorney Kelly Armstrong, who filed the lawsuits on behalf of Katherine Page and Asja Sever, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the women hoped to “send a strong message that this type of treatment will not be tolerated.”

One lawsuit says Chiarello crudely likened martinis to breasts and that he told managers to only hire they found sexually desirable.

In another incident, the lawsuit claims Chiarello held a baguette to his crotch in an overly suggestive manner.

The suit also accuses various chefs and managers of inappropriate touching and making remarks that were sexually abusive, racist and homophobic.

A second lawsuit by the women is a class-action complaint alleging that the restaurant didn’t pay the women and others for all the hours they worked, including overtime.

The women also claim they and others were denied meal breaks and rest periods.

Coqueta, which means flirt in Spanish, opened in 2013 to top reviews over its pretty cocktails and imaginative tapas plates.

In a statement, Chiarello’s spokesman called the celebrity a true American success story who learned to cook by watching his mother in the kitchen and who cares about the people with whom he worked.

“The allegations are not only upsetting to him, they are also against his core beliefs,” the statement said.

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