As chefs are unable to patent a recipe as intellectual property, it is hard to prevent the replication of popular dishes.
“My team always has an input into what we do. We have even put a few dishes by my staff on the menu.” Similarly, it’s not uncommon for chefs to share recipes publicly.
Celebrated pastry chef Janice Wong, for example, does not view recipe replication negatively.
“Patrons have copied our dishes exactly, but with a different colour,” says the chef-owner of 2am:dessertbar. “We see this as an encouragement as chefs frequently take inspiration from social platforms these days.”
However, for other chefs, it’s natural to feel protective over a dish they’ve invested time in creating.
Longworth jokes: “Great recipes take time to develop and, to be honest, if something took me a considerable amount of effort to perfect, I wouldn’t be telling friends the recipe too quickly!”
It’s hard to blame a chef for safeguarding his creations, especially when there have been cases of unexpected mimicry.
Longworth recalls an incident where he served his restaurant’s signatures to a group of industry colleagues, only to find a nearidentical version of his foiegras dish surfacing on one of their menus.
“That dish is extremely distinctive, and given the impeccable timing, one could reasonably infer that it wasn’t pure coincidence,” says the chef. “I guess imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right?” This mentality seems to be mirrored by many other chefs. “I think seeing my dish on someone else’s menu is an acknowledgment that my food is good, and they want to do something similar because they know people will like it,” says Ng.
THE SWEET SPOT
As chefs are unable to patent a recipe as intellectual property, it’s hard to prevent popular dishes from being reproduced in kitchens across the island. Moreover, if restaurants do not implement contractual restraints – such as non-disclosure or noncompete clauses, when chefs move on to a new restaurant – both chef and establishment are technically free to continue serving the dish in question.
Despite having a few disheartening run-ins with imitators, Rishi is swift to decline even a theoretical discussion on patenting signature dishes. “This is an industry which is about people, which is made out of people. It’s all about respect, hospitality and care,” the chef affirms.
“I’d rather everyone respect each other’s work and be ethical about what they do, rather than turn to the legal system.”
The question of ethics is a can of worms, but the idea of respect should be considered. A quick reading of Rhubarb Le Restaurant’s menu would inform diners that their pigeon dish is served with “grape a la Aussignac” – a reference to Pascal Aussignac, whom Longworth worked for during his stint at Club Gascon in London, and his restaurant’s signature sugar-andnutscoated grapes.
By publicly acknowledging the inspiration for his dish, Longworth gives due credit to the original creator while also making the creation his own. While provenance is an important part of visual arts, it is often overlooked in the culinary arts. Besides giving dishes an intriguing backstory, it’s also a way to acknowledge and accord necessary references to these edible creations, and perhaps the compromise needed in this debate.