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Chef Mario Batali prepares dishes for the crowd at the world premiere of Volkswagen's new Jetta compact sedan in New York City in 2010. (Getty Images)

Celebrity Chef Mario Batali Settles Lawsuit With His Waitstaff

Mar 8, 2012 (All Things Considered)

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If he's not at one of his 16 restaurants in New York, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, Mario Batali is easily found on TV these days.

One day he's making meatloaf with his co-host on the new daytime show The Chew. The next he's having a friendly cook-off with a rival celebrity chef on Good Morning America. Or traipsing through Europe for PBS, sporting his reddish ponytail, baggy shorts and not-so-fashionable clogs with celeb food enthusiast Gwyneth Paltrow.

Unfortunately for Batali, the road trip this week ended in a New York federal court, where 117 waiters, captains, servers and busboys sued Batali and his business partner, Joe Bastianich. According to the complaint, the workers say the owners took their hard-earned tips — in some cases as much as 5 percent of the nightly wine sales — to supplement their own profits.

A lawyer for the employees did not return NPR's call. A lawyer for Batali and Bastianich would say only that the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

This isn't the first time Batali has found himself in the non-foodie spotlight. Recently, on a panel convened by Time magazine, Batali compared modern-day bankers to some of last century's most despotic men.

"So the way the bankers have kind of toppled the way money is distributed and taken most of it into their own hands is as good as Stalin or Hitler," Batali said. After some in the financial industry threatened a boycott, he apologized.

Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold says he is not worried that Batali's current woes will cause any lasting damage.

"Mario is not just a celebrity chef. His success does not lie in the TV things he does. He's a chef, and an extremely gifted one," Gold says.

A judge must sign off on the settlement before it's final. That's expected to happen by this summer.

And just what will Batali's $5.25 million settlement mean to his employees? Assuming 18 percent gratuity, that would be the tip on a $29 million bill.

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