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I feel that there is a difference between a recipe and a technique.  For example, how does butter poaching differ from confit?   How do we know that Keller didn't borrow butter poaching from the French?  Yes he may be the first to apply it to lobster, but I don't think it's fair to credit him for inventing the technique.  

jordan -- In view of limiting the length of the quoted excerpt, the following comment, consistent with your observations, had not been quoted from the butter-poached lobster article:

        "Indeed, while Mr.  Keller  may have come up with his butter poaching technique independently, his preparatory step [of blanching] has been around for years. A number of lobster recipes in the 1984 edition of Larousse Gastronomique, for example, call for preliminary blanching. It's also the way Jean-Georges Vongerichten has always started the lobster that is prepared with Thai herbs at Vong."

On the prevalence of chefs' finding "inspiration" from others' recipes, over the weekend I read an interesting article (entitled a "Cybersorceror at the Stove") in French language Courrier International, Hors-Series #21 (March-May 2002).  In it, Ferran Adria, now markedly known for innovation, indicated (roughly translated):

         "At the beginning [of his having taken over El Bulli], *I copied what others did*. At Bulli, during that period, one produced a pure and strong [unclear connotation] French cuisine. Until I heard *Jacques Maximin*, the [then] chef at the Negresco [Hotel] in Nice, say that to create is exactly to not copy. I have discovered that I could think on my own . . . ."

The Los Angeles Times noted in its November 3, 1999 edition the same point ("Chez Bulldog: The World's Hottest Chef is Spanish", by David Shaw):

         "One day in 1986, while working at  Jacque Maximin's  two-star restaurant in the Hotel Negresco in Nice, Adria heard Maximin answer a question about creativity by saying, 'Create, don't  copy. ' It was as if a 500-watt light bulb suddenly went off in Adria's brain. He went back to Spain and began experimenting . . . ."

Apparently, Maximin had once been quite vocal in seeking protection of recipes.  :wink:

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         "One day in 1986, while working at  Jacque Maximin's  two-star restaurant in the Hotel Negresco in Nice, Adria heard Maximin answer a question about creativity by saying, 'Create, don't  copy. ' It was as if a 500-watt light bulb suddenly went off in Adria's brain. He went back to Spain and began experimenting . . . ."

Apparently, Maximin had once been quite vocal in seeking protection of recipes.  :wink:

But wasn't it Picasso (or some other great artist) who said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal"?  :wink:

Steve: I've been following the "food critics" thread with great interest, but I must admit that I'm still working through my own issues re: the roles and obligations of a food writer. After reading the book "Dining Out" and comparing the methods of different critics and writers (e.g., writers who dine "anonymously" vs. writers who dine publicly a la John Mariani), I'm still mulling. Meeting some critics last month at Greenbrier, including Michael Bauer, hasn't helped clarify things in my mind. I'm tempted to just accept the fact that there are no easy answers and plod along (or flail about!) in my writing the best I can, committing myself to careful research and using my conscience as the final guide.

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If it's possible to out a thieving chef, I say do it.  But I imagine it would be really hard to do.

Indeed. It is surprising what some are prepared to ignore even in the face of overwhelming evidence. It seems that what many posters here value far above creativity are opportunities to schmooze with a famous person. Fame, like money, being an end worthy enough to justify unsavoury means.

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At the risk of sounding like a blowhard, I think part of the problem is whether there's copyright protection for *dishes* as opposed to the recipes themselves. Those are two different expressions of an idea and therefore correspond to two different rights (for example, sheet music and the performance of the music on that sheet are two separate rights).

I think we agree that printed recipes (like sheet music) is copyrightable. But the problem comes when we look at the dish created using that recipe. I don't know whether dishes CAN be copyrighted. If not, then no legal protection can be extended to that dish. So if a copying chef works backwards from a dish seen elsewhere (like reverse engineering) without making a copy of the recipe itself, that's OK legally.

Now if a chef wants to patent a dish (and it passes all the tests of novelty, non-obviousness, etc.), reverse engineering that dish is *not* OK. But again, we're talking different types of legal protection.

Ugh, now my head hurts...

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A bit of a mixture of issues being raised here.  Patenting an invention is different from seeking to copyright a piece of intellectual property.  I am not aware that anyone has ever tried to patent a recipe.  And dishes themselves cannot be copyrighted, let alone patented.  If I eat a dish at a restaurant tonight and produce, through my wizardry, exactly the same dish and serve it at my (hypothetical) restaurant tomorrow, I am not infringing anything.  If I take a recipe from the first restaurant's cookbook and publish it without permission, I am a bad boy.

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It's hard to imagine a patent for a dish in a restaurant. A product might be more patentable. You could patent an ice cream scooper, but not a scoop of ice cream. You could patent your process for making an ice cream cone, but someone can come up with another edible container very easily. I would think that maybe the first ice cream pop on a stick might have been patentable, but I'll bet alternatives would still show up on the market.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 1 month later...
Keller's butter-poached lobster, the recipe for which was published in his 1999 book. The article raises interesting line-drawing questions. When does one focus on the resulting dish (butter poached lobster), and when on the technique that produced that result. And should culinary techniques under certain circumstances be claimed as being associated with a particular chef? For example, in the case of the butter-poached lobster, apparently an essential step in the Keller approach is to have the lobsters very quickly blanched in the beginning, to foster the removal of the flesh from the shells.  . . . Apparently, one method of serving the butter-poached lobsters at French Laundry is with an accompaniment of leeks, a beet-type glaze and also a potato sheet.

Keller's Sweet Butter Braised Maine Lobster with Baby Arrowleaf Spinach and a Saffron-Vanilla Sauce is on the cover of the current edition (Volume 21-05) of Food & Beverage International. In the recipe for the dish, Keller notes:

"[A] method and substance called beurre monte -- a way of infusing meats and fish with the flavor of butter. We cook in it, rest meats in it, makes sauces with it. .  . . . Lobster poached in beurre monte . . . reminds me of Maine lobster that you eat with drawn butter . . . ."

The magazine also contains other excerpts on butter poached lobster:

"[C]ooking the exterior layer of the flesh, just enough so that it will pull cleanly away from the shell, leaving the interior raw. This allows us to treat the lobster as we would raw fish. . . Once you make the initial lobster-butter connection, which takes you back to your very first experience with lobster, you can put it with so many different garnishes: beets and leeks, peas and carrots, figs, foie gras."

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It's hard to imagine a patent for a dish in a restaurant. A product might be more patentable. You could patent an ice cream scooper, but not a scoop of ice cream. You could patent your process for making an ice cream cone, but someone can come up with another edible container very easily. I would think that maybe the first ice cream pop on a stick might have been patentable, but I'll bet alternatives would still show up on the market.

I am not an attorney, but several years ago, consulted one regarding the copywriting, or patenting, of a particular recipe.  

That attorney (who may or may not have been correct and I don't know because I didn't check further), told me, "You cannot copywrite nor patent any particular recipe.  Even if you copywrite a cookbook, the individual recipes are not copywrited.  That's because it would be too difficult to do.  There are just too many ingredients, and too many combinations, and too many people cooking to ever have any hope of proving that this one or that one came up with this particular list of ingredients or that particular method.  If you don't want anyone else to have your recipe, don't share it.  That's why companies like Coca Cola and KFC guard their recipes with such fanatical secrecy.  If they could just copywrite their formulas and prosecute anyone who copied them, they wouldn't have to worry.  So, take a lesson from all of the food giants...if you don't want anyone else to prepare your dish, keep it secret."

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I am not an attorney, but several years ago, consulted one regarding the copywriting, or patenting, of a particular recipe.  

Arthur Schwartz told me that you cannot copyright a recipe (along the lines that you cannot patent an idea).  But you could copyright the form of the recipe.  That is, if the recipe were printed in a book. than the exact recipe as printed couldn't be legally lifted.  However change one thing, a measure, order of ingredients, etc..., and all bets were off.

YMMV

Nick

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  • 2 months later...

In the July/August 2002 edition of Food Arts, there is a report that litigation is ongoing between two-starred Philippe Gauvreau of La Tortone, Charbonniere-Les-Bains, and his former sous-chef Frank Ferigutti. Apparently, Gauvreau is unhappy that Ferigutti, now at Le Chapon Fin, Bordeaux, appears to be utilizing ideas from the former's menu. :wink:

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I've been trying to find a quote, with no success, but in essence one famous chef was asked if he minded others "stealing" his recipes and he replied that it didn't bother him at all as nobody made them as well as he did.

Stealing, borrowing, influencing. in the style of. It happens all the time. The only thing that is wrong is explicitly claiming credit for being the originator, especially in print.

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And should culinary techniques under certain circumstances be claimed as being associated with a particular chef? For example, in the case of the butter-poached lobster, apparently an essential step in the Keller approach is to have the lobsters very quickly blanched in the beginning, to foster the removal of the flesh from the shells.

Quick blanching lobster to facilitate the removal of the meat and to be used

in a butter recipe,is not very new. It may not go back as far as mankinds first lobster meal,but it would go back to the second meal,after the flame went out prematurely. :wink:

Seriously though,this technique and the poaching in a butter based sauce

was a favorite of our family.My grandmother recipe was the inspiration one

New Years Eve 15 years ago,when (with permission from my grandmother)

I featured on the menu.

And I believe one would have to search high and low to find a recipe that hasn't been done before,or something similar.

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