Celebrity chef Mario Batali pleads not guilty to indecent assault and battery charge

PHOTO: Chef Mario Batali pauses during an interview in New York, April 4, 2013. PlayScott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Mario Batali pleads not guilty to assault charge

Celebrity chef Mario Batali pleaded not guilty Friday to an indecent assault and battery charge that stems from an alleged 2017 incident with a woman in a Boston restaurant.

Batali, 58, entered the not guilty plea during his arraignment in Boston Municipal Court. It’s the first felony criminal charge the chef has faced since he's been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct.

He was released on his own recognizance and was ordered to stay away from the alleged victim unless he is called for a deposition in her civil lawsuit against him.

According to court records, on March 31, 2017, Batali was seated at Towne Stove and Spirits in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood when a woman noticed him and tried to surreptitiously take his picture. Batali saw her and said "come here right now," according to court documents.

The woman went over to apologize, but Batali told her it was OK and offered to take a selfie, court documents alleged. While seated on a bar stool, Batali put his arm around the woman, who was standing, grabbed her breast, pulled her closer, put his hand between her legs and touched her inappropriately, documents said.

He then allegedly held her face and kissed her cheek and mouth. The woman said based on his smell and half-closed eyes that she believed Batali was drunk, according to court records.

PHOTO: Chef Mario Batali attends an awards event in New York, April 19, 2017. Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP, FILE
Chef Mario Batali attends an awards event in New York, April 19, 2017.

Anthony Fuller, a defense attorney representing Batali, has denied the charges.

"Mr. Batali denies the allegations in both this criminal complaint and the civil complaint filed last August," Fuller said in a statement. "The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit. He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali."

The same woman filed a lawsuit against Batali last year, alleging she asked the chef for a photo and he tried to kiss her, put his hands between her legs and groped her breasts, according to the Boston Globe.

PHOTO: Chef Mario Batali pauses during an interview in New York, April 4, 2013. Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
Chef Mario Batali pauses during an interview in New York, April 4, 2013.

Attorneys for the women praised the district attorney’s office in Boston for pursuing the criminal case.

"Natali is grateful that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Boston has chosen to go forward in prosecuting Mario Batali on criminal charges of sexually assaulting her," Eric Baum and Matthew Fogelman said in a joint statement. "The criminal charges brought against him are independent of the ongoing civil lawsuit. Mr. Batali must be held accountable criminally and civilly for his despicable acts."

The New York Police Department investigated two other alleged sexual assaults by the chef, but ultimately the district attorney did not press charges.

Batali has previously acknowledged "deeply inappropriate" behavior but has said that he "vehemently denies any allegations of sexual assault."

Former business partner Joe Bastianich announced Batali was "fully divested" of the pair's restaurant empire in March.

"We wanted to let you all know that Mario is now fully divested from our businesses," Bastianich and sister Tanya Bastianich Manuali said in a letter to employees. "This week, we acquired all of his interests in our restaurants."

In December 2017, Batali was asked to leave ABC's "The Chew" and he offered to step away from the day-to-day operations of his restaurant group.

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report