Wednesday, June 27, 2007

You Won't Eat Eggs Benedict in This Town Again

A NY chef is suing another chef for stealing her decor and her recipes and the concept for her restaurant, which she in turn got down pat from the inimitable Swan's Oyster Depot in San Francisco, as she herself admits. To me, this should be enough reason to throw the lawsuit out of court. Since I find this lawsuit thoroughly disagreeable I will not reveal here who these two people are. No free publicity for their restaurants.
She claims the decor of her restaurant is her individual property. She claims that this chef, who used to work for her, has opened a copycat restaurant. She intends to fight him. But why bother? If her place is as good as everybody says (haven't been -- always packed) what is it to her? Take the high road and consider yourself flattered. No?
I can't imagine the guys at Swan's Oyster Depot suing her. They are too busy happily feeding people the best clam chowder on Earth.
She is pissed that the other chef is using her super special Caesar's salad dressing and calling it his own. With all due respect, she didn't invent Caesar salad either*. The guy who did (according to Mexican lore, Alex Cardini, in Mexico) could be suing her and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, or rather ad nauseam. But he's dead. In fact, he should be rising from the grave and suing everybody in this town for ruining his incredible dressing, which actually calls for a raw egg, fresh squeezed lime juice, anchovies and full leaves of romaine, not shreds with the porridgey crap that passes for a Caesar salad in New York.
Are recipes to be protected as individual property? In that case, are Benedictine monks going to sue every brunch joint in NY?
There are recipes that are strokes of genius from an individual. However, even if they try to be replicated exactly, most of the time they never taste as good as the original. My mom made the best chocolate cake (she got the recipe from her neighbor Rosita). Every time I make it, it doesn't taste quite like hers. But, like Alex Cardini, my mom is dead too and still we are able to enjoy something similar to her chocolate cake because Rosita gave the recipe to her and my sister gave it to me. When it's about food, the rule in my book is the more the merrier. Be generous. Let people enjoy.
The culinary arts would never evolve unless people were able to copy recipes. We'd all still be eating gruel if that was the case.

*Cf. the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode about who invented the Cobb salad. The horror.

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