Sunday, October 28, 2007

Food Copyright?

It looks like copyright issues have move into the world of haute cuisine:

Text and photos from:

In the days of Escoffier and classic haute cuisine, there was little controversy surrounding the simulation and proper execution of what appeared on the platter. Haute cuisine meant copying the dishes of Escoffier as faithfully as possible; the closer you got, the better you were. This approach was universally accepted, understood -- and appreciated.

Maybe it started with nouvelle cusine, maybe earlier. Perhaps the genesis of today's avant garde movement gave it real focus. But there's no denying that traditional culinary attitudes have given way to advancement, augmentation and innovation. Among avant-garde restaurants and chefs, revolution is the norm. A laboratory milieu, an atmosphere of culinary invention, and careful documentation has permeated the professional kitchen. Online food media like eG Forums encourage diners to distribute photographs of new dishes found the world over -- within hours of their capture.

Our understanding of culinary ethics has not kept up with this evolution.

On 14 March 2006, eGullet Society member
Sam Mason (aka Willie Lee) noted similarities between dishes served at Interlude (a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia) and dishes from American avant-garde restaurants WD-50 (Wylie Dufresne's New York restaurant, where Mason is the pastry chef) and Minibar (Jose Andres's Washington, DC restaurant). Soon after, other Society members noted similarities to dishes from Alinea (Grant Achatz's Chicago restaurant), and suggested a substantial pattern of duplication. Chef/proprietor Robin Wickens of Interlude, also an eGullet Society member, responded to the claims.

Information about the dishes was gleaned from a series of photographs resident on the Interlude restaurant website. When we checked, the photographs weren't there.

The eGullet Society doesn't have an official position on this matter, but it's appropriate to publish the following for two reasons. First, by presumably removing the photographs from its website, Interlude has made examination of the evidence impossible, unless we bring these photos to light in a journalistic context. Second, we believe the Interlude controversy is not a simple matter of a lone Australian restaurant copying a few dishes from halfway around the world. Rather, it's one of the most significant issues facing the global culinary community today. The eGullet Society and its membership, including most of the world's foremost avant-garde chefs as well as a broad range of consumers and commentators, is a natural nexus for discussion of those issues. Of course, it is our hope that these discussions will influence the understanding of ethics in cuisine, and perhaps worldwide public policy in such matters.

Here are the photos at the center of the controversy. The first photo of each pair is from the Melbourne Restaurant. The second photo of each pair is from the "Original" Restaurant.