Restaurateur Joe Bastianich is facing backlash over his insensitive comments to Chinese nail salon workers during a recent episode of cooking show “MasterChef Italia,” where he serves as a judge.
Bastianich, also known for being Mario Batali’s business partner, is seen making a series of cringeworthy statements while the salon employees give him a manicure and pedicure.
In the clip, he repeatedly corrects the women’s pronunciation of Italian words. At one point, he even makes a comment that alludes to an offensive stereotype about Asian male genitalia, after asking the woman giving him a manicure if she has an Italian or Chinese boyfriend.
“I don’t know, personally ... Chinese men ... have some defects sometimes, they’re a little short,” Bastianich says, according to a HuffPost translation. “They’re inadequate in certain situations.”
“This is hard for me,” the woman responds, uncomfortable. Bastianich continues talking about the subject, saying, “But we need to confront this conversation, because that’s the reality.”
The segment, which aired earlier this month, shows the restaurateur inquiring about the pair’s names. Though they already tell him their names, he suggests they have different ones. He then corrects their pronunciation of the “r” sound and later, the pronunciation of Paolo Sarpi, a street in Milan, as well.
Bastianich is also seen asking, “Why haven’t I ever seen a dead Chinese person? What do the Chinese do with the dead?”
New York Magazine’s Grub Street first unearthed the clip last week. The restaurateur has since issued an apology statement to several media outlets, claiming the statements are “not reflective” of his views.
“This was a scripted segment shot in a Milan nail salon that I’ve gone to regularly. I know the women, and we were given the questions to discuss in advance,” said Bastianich in a statement provided to the media. “That said, it’s clear that some of what I said was in poor taste and not reflective of my views. I’m sorry I said those things.”
Social media users, however, weren’t buying his statement. Many labeled his comments as “racist” and others found his apology insincere. Paulina Farro, a contestant on Season 4 of “MasterChef,” tweeted about the incident, saying she was “not surprised by this.” Accomplished chef David Chang even wondered why the clip hadn’t received more attention.
Bastianich is no stranger to controversy. He’s come under fire for his relationship with Mario Batali, who was recently accused of several instances of sexual misconduct that spanned decades. Bastianich claimed to have “never heard” of the allegations before the news broke. The restaurateur did note that he had heard Batali say inappropriate things to staffers and “should’ve done more” to call his partner out, Eater reported.
The outlet also mentioned that several staffers allege Bastianich had “sleazy” behavior and flirted with female staffers, making them feel uncomfortable. The restaurateur has denied these allegations, saying he was trying “to be friendly.”
Erika Larose helped with the translation in the article.