ABC Yanks 'Great American Baking Show' After Johnny Iuzzini Harassment Allegations
Iuzzini tells MUNCHIES he is disappointed in the network's decision.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
On Wednesday evening, ABC announced that it would be pulling the third season of The Great American Baking Show from air for the remainder of its season. The decision came in response to eight women leveling accusations of sexual harassment and abuse against famed pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, one of the shows’ judges.
Iuzzini is the only judge to be on the show since its premiere in 2015. His role on the show came under scrutiny in late November when an investigation by journalist Rachel Tepper Paley for Mic detailed instances wherein four women who'd worked under Iuzzini at Restaurant Jean-Georges—where Iuzzini had held the post of Executive Pastry Chef from 2002 and 2011—made allegations of unwanted touching and verbal abuse. Some of the incidents date back as far as 2004.
The women, whose roles ranged from chefs to unpaid externs, painted a picture of a kitchen where Iuzzini felt he had free rein to be verbally abusive, often screamed at employees, and went through unpredictable shifts in mood. The former employees also allege that he touched the rear ends of women with various kitchen items, ranging from knives to spoons; stuck his tongue in one employee’s ears without warning "three or four" times; put his hands on a chef's hips and simulated sex; asked that female employees give him shoulder rubs once their shifts were over; and showed an employee a photograph of female genitalia, among other anecdotes. (In addition, Iuzzini allegedly nicknamed one Asian employee "Kimchi" and engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a 19-year-old female extern when he was 36.)
Iuzzini told Mic during the initial investigation that he’d come of age in an era wherein such behavior was permissible in kitchens, and though he’d been parroting this learned behavior, he was “deeply sorry to those who felt hurt.”
In spite of the allegations contained in the initial investigation, the first episode of The Great American Baking Show aired last Thursday. But a follow-up investigation from Paley and Mic published on Tuesday detailed allegations of sexual misconduct rom four more former former employees of Iuzzini. In one of the anecdotes relayed in the story, Iuzzini had reportedly hired a stripper for an after-hours work event in 2004 for a performance that involved the performer "squeezing an egg out of her crotch."
In an email to MUNCHIES on Thursday, Iuzzini provided the following statement regarding ABC's decision:
While I understand ABC felt pressured to make this difficult decision, I am extremely disappointed and saddened that the show will not continue to air as scheduled. I feel terrible for the bakers, fans of the show, the cast and everyone else involved in the production. I stand by my apology for some unprofessional behavior 8-10 years ago, but the sexual harassment allegations and many other reports against me were sensationalized and simply not true.
My friends, family and those close to me can attest that over the last several years I have worked hard on improving myself and made many positive contributions to the industry in which I dedicated my life. Nonetheless, I will use this experience as another opportunity in my life to listen, learn and continue growing as a friend, family member, chef, mentor and as a human being.
“In light of allegations that recently came to our attention, ABC has ended its relationship with Johnny Iuzzini and will not be airing the remainder of The Great American Baking Show episodes,” a spokesperson for the network told Variety on Wednesday. ABC did not respond to immediate request for comment from MUNCHIES on Thursday morning. (Earlier this week, the network asked Mario Batali to step away from his hosting duties on The Chew after an Eater report alleged decades of sexual misconduct and harassment by Batali both in work- and non-work settings.)
ABC will air The Great Christmas Light Fight and CMA Country Christmas in place of The Great American Baking Show. The season's winner, the network told Variety, will be announced at a later date.