Celebrity chef and former judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts, John Iuzzini, is facing sexual harassment accusations from four of his former employees.
All of the women worked for Iuzzini while he was the pastry chef at Jean-Georges, an exclusive four-star restaurant in New York City.
Iuzzini held the high-profile position at the restaurant in Trump Tower from 2002 to 2011. During that time, his employees told Mic, he was verbally abusive, prone to mood swings, and often made inappropriate physical contact. “I think he did things to make people uncomfortable, and to see what he could get away with," one of his accusers told reporters. All four women asked to remain anonymous.
The accounts of Iuzzini's victims say that he oversaw a staff of about 10, predominately made up of women. He was known to touch his employees on the backside with kitchen implements, vegetables, or even knives in a suggestive way. “He used to say, ‘If I hit you with my hand, it’s harassment,'" one woman recalled, "'but if I hit you with an object, it’s a mistake.' It was a big, huge joke to him."
Many of the allegations against Iuzzini involve externs — unpaid, entry-level employees who desperately need experience for their resumes. Externs recall being made to give Iuzzini shoulder rubs, as if it were part of their jobs. They also say he would often touch them, make lewd jokes, or scream at them, and they put up with all of it for fear of losing what little standing they had in the field.
One extern told reporters the story of how she was hired in the first place. With no experience whatsoever, she was connected to Iuzzini through a friend. When she e-mailed him to confirm the details of their scheduled interview, he responded by asking her to come to his apartment right then and there. The woman says the encounter was sexual in nature, and the next day, she was hired.
“He was 36, I was 19 and he had all the power,” she said. “And if one person has all the power, it’s not really consent." The two had an on-again-off-again sexual relationship for months after that, both during and after her time as one of Iuzzini's employees. The woman says that she rationalized the relationship at the time, but now admits that it was upsetting, and it "diminished what I was trying to accomplish."
Iuzzini didn't comment on the relationship, or some of the alleged incidents of violence in the workplace. He did own up to many of the charges leveled against him, admitting that they were wrong.