Celebrity TV chef Mark Sargeant has been accused of sexually assaulting American Airlines flight attendant Kimberly Goesling on a trip to Germany in January 2018, a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County, Texas revealed last week.
Goesling alleges that Sargeant, a former Gordon Ramsay protégée and head chef, and later the chef-patron of King’s Cross restaurant Plum and Spilt Milk, assaulted her in a hotel room at the end of a business trip organised by American Airlines. Sargeant had been hired by the airline to develop a special in-flight menu for first class and business class passengers.
Goesling alleges that American Airlines employees bought Sargeant drinks and encouraged him to pursue the flight attendant, according to Goesling’s lawyer. He allegedly sent her a series of text messages “begging her to come to his room for a drink” after she returned to her room, her lawsuit says. She declined and stopped responding to his messages, she says.
Hours later in the middle of the night, Sargeant woke her up while forcefully knocking on her room door, according to the lawsuit. When she opened the door, Sargeant allegedly forced his way in, grabbed Goesling before he “forced his tongue in her mouth,” “grabbed her by the neck” and sexually assaulted and raped her (which would be considered “assault by penetration” under U.K. law), according to the Texas lawsuit.
“While I do not recognise Ms Goesling’s version of events, I whole-heartedly apologise for the indignity of my behaviour that night, the dishonour to my wife and the lack of respect shown towards Ms Goesling,” Sargeant is quoted as saying in Kent Online.
The lawsuit states that via text message, the morning after the alleged assault, Sargeant apologised and admitted to his sexual assault of Goesling. “He stated that he had way too much to drink the night of the sexual assault and acted like a drunken idiot,” it states. “He also admitted that certain people (vice-principals of American Airlines) had ‘encouraged’ him, a Sexual Predator, in his assault of her,” according to the lawsuit.
The chef has denied having admitted the assault, saying to the Caterer and Kent Online, “Contrary to reports, I have never admitted to sexual assault and I am horrified by these allegations.” Kent Online also reports that Sargeant says he reached an amicable settlement in 2020 with Goesling to resolve the matter.
Having initially remained anonymous in the lawsuit, Goesling went public with her allegations in an interview with former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, as part of her “Lift Up” series on YouTube, last week. The flight attendant, who has worked for American Airlines for 30 years, is suing her employer for allegedly covering up her claims and allegedly intimidating her and members of her family during an internal investigation into the incident. The airline confirmed to Eater that it “severed [its] business relationship with [Sargeant]” after the allegations were first made.
Goesling said that American Airlines “discouraged her from further reporting the incident” and that the company spent time “interrogating and investigating her” as well as interviewing her doctors, the Dallas Morning News reports.
Goesling attempted to report the assault to authorities in Texas when she returned home from Germany. She was told they could “do nothing because the attack happened outside their jurisdiction,” Goesling’s Dallas lawyer, Rob Miller, said. No formal charges “appear to have been filed in the alleged assault,” the Dallas Morning News also reports.
In a statement sent to Eater the morning of 24 May, an American Airlines spokesperson said, “American has an unwavering commitment to its team members and we’re committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for everyone who works at our airline.
“Immediately after the incident was reported, we conducted an investigation and severed our business relationship with the accused individual. Because this matter involves ongoing litigation, we aren’t able to comment further at this time, other than to say that Ms. Goesling remains a valued member of our team.”
Sargeant and his representatives did not immediately respond to Eater’s request for comment. But Sargeant is quoted by Kent Online saying he was “deeply ashamed” of how he behaved.
“While intoxicated, I went to Ms Goesling’s hotel room under the wrong impression she was interested in me,” Sargeant is quoted as saying. “I made clear that I was interested in her, including by attempting to kiss her. Ms Goesling said she was flattered but that she wasn’t interested.”
Although Sargeant’s most recent restaurant projects in London have been met with comparative indifference, he was among London’s most celebrated chefs in the late 1990s and early 2000s — a key lieutenant of London’s most famous chef-restaurateur Gordon Ramsay. Sargeant worked with Ramsay at his first restaurant, Aubergine, in 1997 before spending three years as sous chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road, the chef’s flagship Chelsea restaurant between 1998 and 2001. That restaurant earned three Michelin stars in 2001 and has retained them for 20 years.
Following his time at Royal Hospital Road, Sargeant opened the acclaimed (and now closed) Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s where he worked as head chef from 2001 to 2008, helping to earn the restaurant a Michelin star in 2002.
This year, Sargeant has appeared on Channel 4’s Beat the Chef, in which amateur cooks compete with professional chefs in cooks-offs for cash prizes.
A trial to settle the lawsuit between Goesling and American Airlines is set for July.
Update: 26 May 2021, 1:20 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify the distinctions between sexual assault and rape, according to U.K. law and U.S. law in the state of Texas, respectively. It was also updated to include details of the allegations around admission of assault in the lawsuit.