A Michelin-starred chef has left his job at a French luxury hotel after an alleged hazing ritual in which a member of kitchen staff was reportedly tied up naked and humiliated.
The public prosecutor has opened an investigation for sexual assault and violence into the incident earlier this month.
The chef, Aurélien Largeau, 31, who ran the restaurant at the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz, southwest France, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the reports were “false and defamatory”.
The story originated in the local newspaper Sud-Ouest, which reported that a young, recently arrived commis chef was tied naked to a chair with an apple in his mouth and a carrot in his anus for hours with all the chefs, including Largeau, looking on.
Footage of the initiation ritual, known as a bizutage and banned in France, was allegedly shared on social media, but has since been withdrawn. Police say they are trying to find it.
Largeau, described as a gastronomic prodigy in the industry, had run the kitchen at the five-star hotel, where rooms are an average €400 (£348) a night, since 2020 and won a Michelin star two years later.
In a response to France Bleu radio, Largeau wrote: “I would like to formally deny the allegations made against me by several media outlets, and state that the facts reported in no way reflect reality.”
He said the reports were “an attack on my honour, reporting false and defamatory facts about an alleged ‘humiliating hazing of a kitchen assistant’”, adding that he “obviously condemns any form of mistreatment, hazing or humiliation”.
“I would never associate myself with such behaviour,” he wrote.
The Hotel du Palais, which is owned by the Hyatt group, confirmed that Largeau was no longer working at the establishment.
A spokesperson for Hyatt confirmed that there had been a “worrying incident on the hotel premises”.
“This incident does not reflect the values we defend. An investigation has been carried out and the appropriate decisions taken. The security, health and wellbeing of our colleagues, our customers and our partners are our absolute priority,” it said in a statement.
In a further statement, a Hyatt spokesperson added:
“The management team at Hôtel du Palais has concluded an investigation that was launched immediately following concerning allegations and imagery regarding an incident in the premises of the hotel … the management team at Hôtel du Palais confirms that its collaboration with chef Aurélien Largeau ended on 21 December.”
Although no formal complaint has been received from the alleged victim, prosecutor Jérôme Bourrier told AFP a preliminary investigation was being carried out.