New York opens celebrity chef probe after sex assault deal

US celebrity chef Mario Batali -- seen exiting an arraignment hearing in Boston -- is now being investigated by New York prosecutors (AFP Photo/Joseph Prezioso) (AFP)

New York (AFP) - Prosecutors in New York have said they will investigate celebrity chef Mario Batali after a business associate of his agreed to compensate former employees over sexual harassment allegations.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office's probe of restaurateur Ken Friedman had unearthed information regarding Batali's alleged behaviour at a trendy Manhattan gastropub.

Friedman, the majority owner of The Spotted Pig, will pay $240,000 to 11 women and give them a share of his restaurant's profits for ten years under a settlement negotiated by James, announced on Tuesday.

In December 2017, as the #MeToo movement gathered steam, The New York Times published allegations by several ex-restaurant workers accusing Friedman of making sexual advances and engaging in unwanted physical contact.

The owner of several reputable establishments disputed the accounts but nevertheless apologized.

As well as the $240,000 in damages, Friedman will share 20 percent of his profits from The Spotted Pig until 2029.

Friedman has also agreed to no longer manage the restaurant, situated in the West Village.

Batali was an investor in The Spotted Pig and has also been accused of harassment and unwanted touching.

Several employees told The New York Times that Batali had harassed them in full view of Friedman.

"We have received credible information and are separately looking into him, his business partner, his management company and his three restaurants," James said of Batali at a press conference.

He has previously denied the allegations.

Batali, known for his red ponytail and orange Croc shoes, has been charged with sexual assault in a separate case in Boston relating to an alleged groping at a bar in 2017.

He pleaded not guilty in May.