Hands off Chef!

Annoyingly,I've noticed the topic of menu plagiarism and even the possibility of copyrighting particular dishes,cropping up quite often lately.

But can a chef expect to have copyright over dishes which he includes on his menu?

Not many dishes are truly innovative.Almost every dish has been done before in some way,shape or form,lots of very similar combinations of ingredients brought together in slightly different formats and with ever greater technicality.Things go out of fashion,people forget about them, then the person who resurrects them perhaps with a *modern* slant is credited with inventing the dish.
The fact is there are flavours that go together and there a flavours that don't.If a flavour combination works then the likelihood is that at some point, some Chef somewhere has happened to notice this before. Any Chef genuinely discovering a brand new flavour combination truly has hit Chef Recipe Jackpot.
A case in point:Sticky Toffee Pudding
The late departed Francis Coulson of  Sharrow Bay Hotel, Lake Windermere, is widely acknowledged with inventing this dish in the 60's/70's. But visit any pub/restaurant in the North of England and they will probably have reputedly the 'original Sharrow Bay recipe' included on their menu.Nearly every kitchen will have a chef who has worked with a chef who worked at Sharrow Bay ,at some point, or knows a chef who knows a chef etc,etc.The Chefs who have actually worked at the kitchens of Sharrow Bay are sworn to keep the secret recipe to themselves.(Obviously we do have *the* authentic recipe on our menu as Chef actually did once work with a pastry Chef who once worked at Sharrow Bay...)Actually randomly,Chef once cooked dinner for Francis Coulson...
The point is that similar pudding recipes can be found in many vintage cookery books.

Exhibit A

Vintage Cookery book-Post war containing recipes contributed by readers.
Note page 56:Recipe for Date Pudding

This recipe is practically identical to the Sharrow Bay recipe,the only noteworthy deviation is the use of 'best dripping' as opposed to 'best butter'.But,your average thrifty housewife living in post war Britain is hardly likely to be in a position to whack the household's full weekly ration of butter into one pudding..
So what is this recipe doing in a book published 20 years or more before Francis Coulson invented his famed dish?
The fact is all recipes evolve,different Chefs develop different variations taking ideas and inspiration from other recipes/Chefs/menus.
What Sharrow Bay actually did was reinvent old dish,breathing new life into it by coining a zippy new name 'Icky Sticky toffee pudding',thus bringing it back to popularity.They marketed it successfully and established a trend.

How about then Noma,recently voted Number One in the Worlds 50 best restaurants,Rene Redzepis award winning restaurant is seen as inspirational and cutting edge, bringing Nordic cuisine to the forefront.
A welcome move in the absolute opposite direction from the molecular gastronomy trend,Noma's cuisine is a step back to the roots of food,with more focus on vegetables,less protein and less actual cooking.Working with Food Historians to research old techniques and ingredients.So, though innovative in the sense that its not the type of food that has been served recently, if at all, can he really claim copyright(or would he even want to)?I don't think so,how can we be certain that Fred Flintstone didn't plate up a similar feast(well,perhaps not as artistically arranged) prior to fire and the cooking pot being discovered?And wouldn't he of course be eating a more vegetable based diet( and rutting around on the forest floor for roots,berries and leaves) because he didn't have the expertise to render some proteins edible? Interestingly he'd also be eating exclusively seasonal and local food.Exemplary.
Any Chef worth his salt now wouldn't be seen dead without the latest must have Cheffy fashion accessory: A Foraging Assistant. And perish the thought of admitting that you haven't physically gathered at least some portion of your menu personally,whilst preferably sporting a fetching Burlap tunic fixed with twine and flip flops fashioned lovingly from a couple of 28 day aged reindeer chops, all the while embracing ones inner self,at one with Mother Earth.The food you subsequently create thus elevated to an homage.

Please though,lets not regress too far into the realms of the raw,whilst a committed omnivore, biting the head life force out of a still moving prawn doesn't really blow my skirt up.Of course it will be the freshest prawn you've ever tasted,of course it will evoke 'essence of the sea',why wouldn't it? its still bloody alive.
And I bet Fred and Barney ate it once,out of necessity, before they thought up the only true innovation,fire and the cooking pot,that opened the recipe floodgates and set us on the journey which elevated us from other mammals.

Whilst  its unacceptable to nick another Chefs expression/personalisation of a dish in the written format(ie the method),or a brand name which I came across here,the idea of copyrighting ingredient combinations is wrong on so many levels.How can any Chef be so pompous as to think he can 'own' an ingredient combination??
Any Twanker Chef complaining about this is has surely missed the point.

I don't need to tell you what this is,but its playing JUST FOR YOU..

A few years ago before we had the pub,we owned a small restaurant.In the next village there was a hotel with a Chef/Owner.We used to eat there from time to time,the food was good.The Chef though didn't do much to ingratiate himself with his public.He actively sought out publicity and was unfailingly arrogant,once giving an interview to the local paper which contained the clunker of a quote that he was "educating people in the North East about what good food was". Insulting your diners in this way is not an overly salubrious method of customer retention.As a result Chef Manqué was always unfairly slated by reviewers and eventually sold up.
I digress,he never came to eat in our restaurant(clearly didn't want to give us the idea we were good enough to be graced with his presence) but would often send members of his staff on scouting missions.Obviously,we recognised them(donning swathed scarves and sunglasses indoors wasn't exactly conducive to inconspicuousness).Whenever they came we would ponder which dish from our menu would appear next on his.It gave us a laugh,obviously he rated our food(that or his ideas font had dried up), in any event his execution of each dish was always slightly different to ours.It gave us a warm glow and a sense of achievement to see dishes from our menu find their way onto his..

Isn't that the whole point of cooking? About creating flavour combinations that hopefully people will enjoy and if you're really lucky,will want to go away and recreate for themselves?

If they don't, then surely its a Big Fat Fail.

The idea of Dish Plagiarism is absolute bollocks.

I rest m'case y'r honour...

PS Startlingly,Noma(English meaning) is: 'a gangrenous disease caused by malnutrition'.
I'd still like to eat there though.


Yes... All well and good... But where's promised picture of hot chef?
Dom-posting pics of Chef on the inter webs has got me in trouble before.When facebook first came out I created myself an account but had no friends, so(as you do)I created a profile for Chef then made friends with myself.
Anyway He started receiving e mail notifications with friend requests,loads of random people he'd worked with,school friends etc.Which he didn't reply to,got quite annoyed and told me to take it down as people would think he was ignorant for not replying.He doesn't agree with facebook or Twitter and has no idea he features regularly on this blog.So fraid wouldn't dare post a pic!
Very good post.Couldn't agree more, and there is nothing wrong with taking other chefs recipes in any shape or form as long as the original is credited. Unless I have changed something out of all recognition I always credit in some way the source it came from. It is wrong to plagiarise and fob it off as a signature dish. I think Foraging is going to be the new fashion gastronomy tag for 2011. I have recently started donning a foraging cap and marching into the wild to gather and collect. Will be posting a lot of this in the coming months. Casa Rosada is currently working very closely with local businesses, hostelries and the like to organise workshops and "wild gastronomy" tourism. Watch my space.A foraging assistant, the new must have kitchen friend-If only I could afford one!!!! Meanwhile I remain....
yours faithfully
"Hands on chef"
Alison Cross said…
NS - would still like to see pic of hot chef, as Dom suggests :-)

I agree - I have a review to do of Ottolenghi cookbook. Am wishing Chef could just rustle me up something out of it RIGHT now....

Foraging: I don't want to eat any foraged mushrooms.....Nicholas Evans (Horse Whisperer author) just about did for his family with wrongly attributed mushrooms!

Ali x
Senor Algarve-Can't wait to see what you forage,will be following with keen interest.Wild gastronomy tourism- sounds like a marvellous plan!

Ali-I was once requested to attach a photo to a job application.I was so annoyed that I cut a photo of a model from a magazine and sent the application in with it attached.When I turned up for the interview I could see the interviewer frowning and glancing repeatedly from me to the photo on the application.
Would it be OK if pulled a similar stunt and posted a tasty Chef photo sourced from the interwebs??
Heard about the Horse whisperer BTW,nasty business,his tasty but suicidial fungal omelette.
As usual, I find myself agreeing with you (and internally shouting at the computer ... you know like when you're watching Question Time and some numpty starts spouting off . . . ) and I'm still laughing. Thank you!
Somersetchef said…
Loved this post so much, the origional Comment went on for way too long! (Became a Blog post in it's self......which is what I have done.....Made it a post!)


You are so spot on with this subject.

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