Two of Michael Chiarello's former servers have slapped the celebrity chef with damning accusations of sexual harassment and wage violations. Katherine Page and Asja Sever, who each spent several years at the James Beard Award–nominated Coqueta in San Francisco, allege the Food Network star not only stole wages but also created an abusive workplace full of salacious remarks and even physical contact. In a pair of lawsuits stretching to 44 pages — one handles the sexual-harassment allegations; the other, the claim about wages — Page and Sever claim Chiarello inappropriately touched employees, made crude as well as racist and homophobic jokes, and mimicked sex acts with food.
The suit is chockablock with examples the two women, who quit last week, argue prove that Chiarello, Coqueta's executive chef Dominick Maietta, and other managers created a "sexually charged, hostile and abusive environment." They describe situations where Chiarello allegedly shoved Page, compared various foods to genitalia, pretended a baguette was his penis, and boiled his policy for hiring females down to "If you don't want to fuck them, don't hire them." The suit claims he and top-level management at Coqueta would stand around and discuss "sexual acts that they have engaged in, or would like to engage in, with the female guests of the restaurant." On the finances side, the women claim it was standard procedure to manipulate time sheets, not pay overtime, and force servers to pool tips with kitchen staff. They're hoping to make that suit a class action.
Chef Michael Chiarello
Chef Michael Chiarello hit with serious sexual harassment allegations
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Chef Michael Chiarello poses at the KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations during the 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE at Grand Tasting Village on February 21, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for SOBEWFF)
NAPA, CA - NOVEMBER 13: Chef Michael Chiarello attends the screening of 'Supermensch' during the Napa Valley Film Festival on November 13, 2014 in Napa, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Chef Michael Chiarello prepares food at Delta Presents Food with Altitude featuring Michael Chiarello, Michelle Bernstein, Linton Hopkins, Andrea Robinson and Jean-Paul Bourgeois during the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Union Square Events Kitchen on October 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Chef Michael Chiarello at Delta Presents Food with Altitude featuring Michael Chiarello, Michelle Bernstein, Linton Hopkins, Andrea Robinson and Jean-Paul Bourgeois during the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Union Square Events Kitchen on October 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23: (L-R) Food & Wine Founder David Bernahl, chefs Nancy Silverton and Michael Chiarello attend LIVE On Grand Presented by Lexus, Hosted by Chef Michael Chiarello on August 23, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for LA Food & Wine)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 947 -- Pictured: Jimmy and Questlove cook with Chef Michael Chiarello on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)..
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 22: Michael Chiarello and Leslie Blodgett attends the 30th Annual Night Of Stars presented by The Fashion Group International>> at Cipriani Wall Street on October 22, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 08: Chef Michael Chiarello attends Chipotle's 'Cultivate San Francisco' a culinary celebration in Golden Gate Park on June 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Chipotle)
NAPA, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Michael Chiarello celebrity chef demonstration at Live In The Vineyard at Bottega Ristorante on November 1, 2012 in Napa, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 09: Michael Chiarello attends the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival at Nokia Plaza L.A. LIVE on August 9, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage)
Michael Chiarello during 6th Annual Food Network Wine & Food Festival - Culinary and Lifestyle Seminar Hosted by Michael Chiarello at South Beach Wine and Food Festival Tent in Miami Beach, Florida, United States. (Photo by John Parra/WireImage)
Michael Chiarello during 32nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards - Press Room at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)
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In a statement, their attorney said, "This type of behavior to women is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. Unfortunately, restaurants are a hotbed for illegal activity of all different types." Coqueta hasn't addressed the claims yet, and so far Chiarello's attorneys have only issued a general denial to the San Jose Mercury News that notes he's "very upset":
Mr. Chiarello strongly believes that a great restaurant cannot really be great without an outstanding team. Throughout his career, he has served as a mentor to the people who work with him and helped them climb the ladder in their careers. This claim flies in the face of who Mr. Chiarello is and how he has lived his life. ...
We are also disappointed that neither Coqueta nor Mr. Chiarello were provided a copy of the lawsuit prior to the former employees' attorneys sending it to the media. Mr. Chiarello intends to vigorously defend himself, his reputation and his team against these unfounded claims in a court of law.