Recipe plagiarism is real and cooks around the world are looking for ways to fix the problem

WASHINGTON: Pastry chef Nick Malgieri was browsing a food blog when he came across a recipe for panettone, a puffy sweet bread that the author says brings back fond memories of Christmases spent with his Italian grandmother.

But it quickly became apparent that the instructions were all too familiar.

“I started reading the recipe and I said to myself: ‘This is my recipe!'”, he recalls in an interview with AFP.

Malgieri’s unpleasant experience was unfortunately not a one-time thing. After decades of work and 12 published cookbooks, the American baking expert has seen his work all over the internet – reproduced without his consent on numerous sites.

Some of his recipes have even been claimed by other chefs and included in their cookbooks. In one, he says he found a copy of his “food processor puff pastry, practically word for word.”

Plagiarism has become widespread in the world of food. It’s hard to stop, and even harder to chase.

Since the cookbook with Malgieri’s puff pastry recipe had a small circulation and probably minimal profits, Malgieri’s publishing house chose not to even file a complaint.

When chefs turn to US courts for redress, the chances of obtaining recognition of their copyright or a monetary settlement are considered low, as the proceeds are generally not protected by intellectual property laws. .

“A recipe is just a list of ingredients and simple instructions,” New York lawyer Lynn Oberlander, who specializes in the field, told AFP.

“How can you protect copyrights, for example, on scrambled eggs? »

If it were possible, she says, since there aren’t an infinite number of ways to prepare the dish, one chef could ultimately prevent another from including the dish in a cookbook.

The only hope for chefs wishing to protect their concoctions may lie in recipes that include “enough original literary expression,” either in the instructions or in the historical narrative, to be considered unique, Oberlander says.

As recipe plagiarism has spiked in recent years, cookbook authors have been doing just that, using “more descriptive material” in their written work, according to Jonathan Bailey, a consultant on plagiarism issues.

The only risk ? Readers sometimes find the extra verbiage “boring,” he says.

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Recipe plagiarism is hard to stop, and even harder to prosecute.

Inspiration or pure copy?

Last October, a recipe scandal rocked the culinary world.

Singaporean chef and author Sharon Wee has accused Elizabeth Haigh of “copying or paraphrasing” recipes and other passages from her 2012 book “Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen”, which chronicled her cooking experiences with her mother.

Wee said she was “distressed” by the incident, which resulted in Haigh’s book “Makan” being withdrawn from circulation.

But in a profession where the reinvention of classic dishes is commonplace, where does inspiration through the work of another chef end and where does plagiarism begin?

In France in the 1980s, the chef Jacques Maximin wanted to launch a group that would protect the creations of the chefs, to fill the legal loopholes.

His proposal sparked a storm of criticism from top chefs.

Paul Bocuse said he was “perplexed” by Maximin’s idea, saying all chefs “take inspiration from others” and admitting he had “nicked” the idea for one of his signature dishes at ” an old man” from the French Basse-Ardèche.

There is still significant disagreement on the matter.

There have been calls on some food blogs to end plagiarism, with explicit instructions on how to properly credit another chef’s work.

“The internet has made plagiarism a sport,” Malgieri says, with some recipes appearing on “20 or 30” blogs at once.

For Kelli Marks, an Arkansas pastry chef who sells wedding cakes in the Little Rock area through her website, most food bloggers are under no illusions that some of their content might possibly appear elsewhere.

When she wrote her first book last year, she said she was careful to ‘go through and check my recipes’ to make sure she only shared ideas she had herself. created from scratch – a process requested by its editors.

Marks says she doesn’t believe she’s been plagiarized yet, but she’s still on high alert. she refuses to put some of her recipes online.

“They are so important to me, and I would hate for anyone else to take something that I created,” she said.