Chef John Besh withdraws from South Beach Wine and Food Festival after sex harassment claims

John Besh, the New Orleans-based celebrity chef and restaurateur who resigned last month from the company he founded after allegations of sexual harassment, has also bowed out of next year’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Besh initially remained on the schedule, but festival executive director Lee Brian Schrager said Friday that the chef called this week to withdraw. Besh was supposed to co-host a sold-out $250-a-head dinner at Scarpetta restaurant on Feb. 24 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach with chef and Food Network personality Scott Conant.

Besh will be replaced by Amanda Freitag, a New York chef and cookbook author who appears regularly with Conant as a judge on the popular show “Chopped.”

“Amanda was available to step in and we’re happy to have her,” Schrager said in a telephone interview from France. “John has been a big supporter of the festival for a long time, and we feel badly for everyone affected.”

Besh is one of the biggest names in the culinary world, a former Marine who garnered awards for his New Orleans restaurant August and then emerged as a key figure in New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over the past decade, his empire expanded to 12 restaurants, a bar and an event space, employing 1,200 in all.

On Oct. 21, the New Orleans Times Picayune published an expose of alleged harassment and misconduct at Besh Restaurant Group, including a sexual relationship Besh had with a 24-year-old female subordinate who later filed a federal harassment complaint. Besh said the relationship was consensual. He stepped down from his company the following day, admitting “moral failings” and telling the Times Picayune he needed to take time off and “come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith.”

Schrager said Besh was not disinvited and might take part in future festivals.

“I’ve known John a long time and he realizes this is a charity event,” Conant said in an interview Friday. Conant said Besh did not want to cause the festival or its sponsors any distractions or discomfort.

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which will take place Feb. 21-25 next year, raises millions annually for the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University. Its 90 events draws hundreds of chefs from around the world and more than 60,000 ticketed attendees.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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