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Sep 20, 2010 06:27 PM

Chefs using other chefs' recipes [moved from Boston board]

NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM


I think a lot of chefs roll out recipes adapted from periodicals such as Art Culinaire, Gastronomica, and many other sources. While I can't speak to the recipes at Journeyman, and have a very high opinion of their food, I would say that such practice is common (although perhaps not always as obvious as your claims). And in my opinion, as long as it's good, I don't mind (I would go back to any restaurant that's able to put out David Chang and Thomas Keller recipes with high fidelity). It does take some of the mystique out of the process though. Along those lines, I know exactly how a mint julip is made, but I will continue to order one every time I'm sitting outside at Eastern Standard.

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  1. True, very well put. Frankly, I never would have attempted that pig's head recipe at home anyway, and the experience was just as much about the atmosphere as it was about the recipes themselves. But it was still a bit jarring to make this realization after the fact, given that we'd just spent more on our dinner than we had at one of Thomas Keller's actual restaurants (Bouchon).

    1 Reply
    1. re: cambridgejen

      Yeah, Bouchon has really great fidelity in creating those Thomas Keller recipes. :)

    2. It's a question of the impression they give. I haven't eaten there so don't know what the menu says or doesn't say, but their website is so serious (and humorless), so full of applauding adjectives (they don't have suppliers, they have amazing ones; they don't serve eggs, they serve their favorite ones), and so self-important, that they do convey a sense that the food will be original. There may be some place on their blog where among the descriptions of flooding and delays and windows and gastronomic philosophy they talk about their culinary inspirations, but I didn't see it. For a website that so fetishizes their food, it's an odd omission.

      29 Replies
      1. re: FoodDabbler

        At home, i frequently use the recipes of J-G Von Gerichten and Barbara Tropp - with modifications to suit my tastes and mood - without feeling the need to be original. Hey, if I can cook something that pleases my guests, I am happy.

        In high school, I was taught to try to minimize my use of adjectives; words to the journeyman prose writer. I am game to try the food anyway, regardless of the adjectives.

        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

          I want to make clear that I don't worship originality for originality's sake. I've eaten far too many things that would have been better left in original form, than improved by originality. It's a question of what kind of joint J aspires to be. If its aim is to turn out hifi renditions of Thomas Keller dishes, then it should say so and get on quietly with the job. But if it wants to do something new, it should do something new. I haven't eaten there, as I said, and I certainly haven't independently checked if there's any systematic link between their food and the published recipes of others, but their rhetoric leads me to expect new food (just as, say, T.W.Food's does and on which, for better or worse, it delivers).

          1. re: FoodDabbler

            We did eat there over the weekend as well, and did our own ''research'' afterwards..[ we had a vegetarian and 3 omnivore menus]. Some things seemed ''too familiar'', to our group. unfortunately we found the direct recipes for 6 of our dishes. As the above posters noted, and we agree, but they are saying that they are ''new and original''. the overall food experience wasnt 'bad, and the service wasnt'bad'' but we were really expecting a bit more. My DH and I have always been avocates of TW food, and we feel the same today.Journeyman can expect us back in a few months, and we hope it will be not so 'bad''.

            1. re: kewpie

              As someone who has both eaten at Journeyman and owns all of the Keller cookbooks, I have to challenge you to cite specific examples on this one (recipe names, cookbook names, and page numbers, please). I do not believe you are correct that they are copying 6 dishes (or even 1, frankly) and I don't want people here to get the wrong idea about the restaurant. But please do try to prove otherwise if this wasn't just hyperbole on your part.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                thank you StriperGuy., and full agreement on wonderful Rendezvous.
                per bintlet ; Our intention is not to demolish a new restaurants reputation, not do we want to further this by bintlets insistance on ''recipe names,cookbook names, and page numbers, please''. We never mentioned Keller, per se[ !]].. others did. We stand by our statement. We were guests at a restaurant, and expressed our opinion as to our experience. The food and service wasnt ''bad''.We will return in a few weeks, with other friends[ at their invitation].They are owners of a local restaurant. Hopefully it will improve.
                As a long time member of the Chow community, and as you can go under our history, there is 90%positive reviews from us, 10% not. And, as ethics go, if we are'in the know'' about particular happenings, we NEVER post about any of this... and never will.
                We are famous for our phonecalls though
                '' people on CH are asking where you are'', is a favorite.

            2. re: FoodDabbler

              I've never heard of an honor code among chefs about owning up to the use of other chefs' recipes. I can't recall seeing many citations of recipe sources on menus. Often, the opposite is true: some source is cited ("Mom" or "Aunt Mabel") in an effort to artificially personalize a dish, a menu prose stylist's trick to boost sales. I'm frankly more interested in execution, the results, than the recipe source.

              But I also have to say, an overly self-serious, allusive menu and online self-profile can be a mistake. You're setting yourself up for inflated expectations or ridicule. T.W. Food is a good example: their initial website and menu was so absurdly earnest and pretentious that it invited mockery. I suspect it would have served them better to keep the prose flat and just cook, especially given their very uneven results early on.

              Journeyman sounds a little like they're in the same boat. If I were giving them marketing advice, I'd say, "Keep the mission statement to a few words and let the food speak for itself." But these are first-timer restaurateurs: perhaps if they didn't have a Serious Philosophy That Must Be Illuminated, they wouldn't have opened it in the first place. Maybe what they're doing will prove different enough to justify the pre-meal proselytizing.

              I guess everyone has different ideas about self-promotion. Is it any less ridiculous to wallpaper your website with glamour shots of yourself, or make half-baked connections between your restaurant and The Sopranos? Eventually, the kind of customers who care about the food will figure out if the food's any good, regardless of how it gets hyped.


              T.W. Food
              377A Walden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                There is an honor code among chefs.!

                1. re: kewpie

                  even the best chefs use others recipes--- but they are 'tweeked'' . we found Journeymans' to be direct recipes. DIRECT from the book.

                  1. re: kewpie

                    Can you explain, kewpie? By this, do you mean that Journeyman should be crediting Keller or Chang on their menu?

                    I'm curious. Seems to me that you don't have to change that many notes to make a recipe or a melody your own. Sure, "My Sweet Lord" is "He's So Fine", but how many molten chocolate desserts give credit to J-G's original accidental invention?


                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      The question of attribution is interesting. The history of cookery is, of course, studded more heavily with borrowings than a Petsi's raisin scone is with raisins. I've had occasion over the last 15 months to study English cookbooks from the 17th and 18th centuries. They present a fascinating record of creativity mingled with stealthy borrowing and outright theft. Their page-long subtitles are, basically, desperate attempts to convince the public that it's this book, unlike all the others, that's really new.

                      From that time on we've expected most cookbooks to mostly rehash old material. In the same way we expect most restaurants to present familiar food in a competent manner without attribution. A menu is not a scientific paper. But if a restaurant hints that it's offering new flavors, or new food combinations, or using new cooking techniques, then it needs to do that. I know I'm skating not just on thin ice but -- not having eaten at J -- on no ice at all, but the Journeyman website does hint to me that if I eat there I'll be introduced to new taste experiences.

                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                      Yes, ultimately it's the food that must sing, not the words.

                      Still, I think, diners have a right to know what to expect. They go to El Bulli to get exceptionally well executed dishes that are new. They go to Shake Shack to get exceptionally well executed dishes that are old. It would cause no end of unhappiness if they got a hamburger at El Bulli, unless it was part of an elaborate culinary-intellectual exercise, or a gel masquerading as a hamburger at Shake Shack.

                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                        I'm not following the analogy here. How does Journeyman using an uncredited Keller or Chang recipe confound anyone's expectations?


                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          If you're expecting -- rightly or wrongly -- original food, I think you'd be disappointed (as two people who've posted here were, if only a little) if you found you'd eaten stuff that's been published by other, well-known chefs.

                          I stress that it's a question of the expectations you bring to the table. At most Indian restaurants in the U.S. I'd be ecstatic if I found well-made tandoori chicken -- not just something coated in weird neon-red paint. At Tabla in NYC I'd be disappointed if that was all I got. The restaurant promises something new and different, so that's what I want there, not a channeling of Madhur Jaffrey.

                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                            This is kind of where I was going: how much does one have to alter someone else's recipe before it becomes original? How many chef's have never swiped (borrowed, if you prefer) ideas from their betters without attribution? If one is going to look to others for inspiration, why not a Robuchon or a Keller?


                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              THANK YOU FoodDabbler- I agree with your comments and dont think i could express it better.
                              MC Slim JB. well- I am a musician. and there are a certain amount of a song you can ''borrow'' . I think its 3 notes[ forgive me- my lawyer is asleep].My BMI checks attest to this. I have been sampled, and I have been compensated. No, I dont expect a 'credit' on a restaurant menu- but maybe a 'nod'.

                              1. re: kewpie

                                I'd love to have a professional chef weigh in on this topic!

                                In some genres, there isn't a whole lot new under the sun, yet I don't see footnotes on 99% of menus. Seems like chefs have an awful lot of wiggle room that falls outside the aegis of copyright law. I'd suggest most claims to true originality in the kitchen are sheer puffery or a naif's ignorance, falling into that realm of ridicule-worthy pretension.

                                I think it was Einstein who said (or is bogusly, frequently attributed as saying) that the secret to creativity is hiding your sources. I don't really believe that, but I do think if you're going to claim to be an original and steal anyway, you ought to be less obvious about it.


                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  This is devolving into a whole other topic, larger than J and your obligation to take me to dinner there. You're quite right that originality, in any field, is largely, as Newton really said, standing on the shoulders of others. It's also right that there's a continuum connecting people who slavishly follow a recipe with people who make small changes in it with people who make big changes with people who make new flavor combinations. There's not a sharp line separating the original creators from the slavish followers. In J's case we have reliable, sober people (kewpie is, and I assume Cambridge/ArlingtonJen is, as well, although you can never tell these days) who say dishes there are exactly as, or very close to, the ones described in well-known cookbooks. It comes down then to a question of what sort of restaurant J presents itself as being.

                                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                                    Not to be pendantic, newton's comment was that if he had seen farther than others, it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. That is how i feel when I modify something from Tropp or Jean-Georges.

                                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                                    If you dine at Hamersley's often you will notice Gordon often puts items such as "Wolfgang's mushroom soup" as both an homage to his mentor and to give credit where credit is due. As far as nixing a recipe from another chef, not changing or not giving credit? This is always frowned upon. We certainly take inspiration from other chefs and like anyone else often times ideas that seem our own are the brainchild of another; but to pass off recipes and techniques from others as your own... well that's never acceptable.
                                    Marco Pierre white had this to say on the subject - about 1:30 into video

                                    1. re: cabriac

                                      Yah, exactly. That snippet of that video is spot on.

                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                      It strikes me that the folks who own Journeyman have no actual professional cooking experience. They left their jobs to teach themselves how to put a restaurant together. If they're starting out with tried and true recipes from other chefs, then so be it. At least they're getting them right, or so it seems according to the thread. I imagine that, in time, they'll experiment more with their own ideas; perhaps they just aren't ready to go there yet.

                                      Personally I have no problem with "recipes" or dishes or ideas appearing on menus other than their original homes. I've seen plenty of my own popping up around town, but I understand that certain egos can't allow it. I remember the fuss over o ya and Tim Cushman "stealing" ideas. It didn't matter to me either way because he was still able to pull off a dining experience that many people have enjoyed. That's not easy. Recipes are easy; execution in a restaurant is not.

                                      I once perused the website of an Italian restaurant in DC (the chef had sent me his resume) and when I looked at its food photos, I knew something was awry, so I opened up the original Charlie Trotter's cookbook and found every photo there. It was the lamb shank with saffron risotto that gave it away. Bintlet: Braised Lamb Shank with Saffron Risotto and Garlic-Infused Lamb Stock Reduction; Charlie Trotter's, First Edition; p150-151.

                                  3. re: MC Slim JB

                                    As a person of honor, I think you'll agree there's only one way to settle this. You must find a way to get a table at J, treat me to dinner there, and show me how each dish is subtly different from its source. That'll teach me.

                                    1. re: FoodDabbler

                                      Yes, I too must be taught a lesson and need to join in this sojourn in search of culinary truth.

                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                      My understanding - and I may be wrong about this - is that to adapt a recipe as your own, 2 ingredient proportions must be changed. Now, that leaves room for a lot of play - 1/2 ts. salt instead of 3/4, lemon juice instead of lemon zest - but I did hear (somewhere?) that's what it takes to not have to attribute. That being said, along the lines of "there are no new stories, only new tellers", I think there are no seriously "new" recipes, only new technique and combinations. There are only a finite number of foods in the world. And at the end of the day, I do believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If someone liked my food enough to "steal" it, I'd be a little honored, and since I'm not into egocentric self-aggrandizing about what rarified cooking skills I have, I really don't think I'd be bothered by a lack of attribution, just happy that someone dug my food enough to serve it to others. I may be completely misunderstanding this thread, but it's what comes to mind for me.

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        What is a new recipe if not new techniques and new combinations?

                                        Incidentally, say there are 100 different main ingredients available (vegetables, meats, etc.), 100 flavorings (spices, herbs, sweeteners, and so forth), and 20 techniques (boiling, roasting, etc.). This is clearly a serious undercount, but let's go with it. If you confine yourself to dishes made with 3 ingredients, 3 flavorings, and a single technique, there are 20 trillion possible combinations. It's this vast space that chefs such as Ferran Adria exploit.

                                        1. re: FoodDabbler

                                          Ok, point well-made and well-taken. See you at J. : )

                                        2. re: mamachef

                                          I don't think you can say something as arbitrary as "2 ingredients proportions;" If you have 6 types of chillies in the dish, and you change the proporations of two, is that "NEW?" Of course not. If you take a basic flan recipe, and add some pureed kabocha squash, you might have a "New" recipe by adding just one, etc. etc.

                                          It is more like the classic supreme court case mentioned here:


                                          "The answer being, I know it when I see it."

                                          With regard to originality. There most certainly IS such a thing as original cooking. When I make a beef stew with no recipe book, and include components from 4 different international cuisines, I assure you noone will accuse me of copying.

                                          That said, in my book, any resto that is doing a dish blatantly inspired by, or copying the recipe of someone else, should acknowledge it, period. Not on some high moral basis, but just for the sake of common courtesy, and honesty.

                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            I said that was my understanding, not the absolutely definitive explanation. That being said, all your points are well-taken. That's what I love about CH; it always gives me something to ponder. And for what it's worth, I did take to heart your opinion re: simple common courtesy as it pertains to attribution. I think most folks feel same way you do.

                        2. I look at a lot of cookbooks. Sometimes I use the recipe as originally written, but mostly I always put my twist on it. I use recipes as a jumping off point.

                          1. i'm going to argue from analogy here.

                            ever hear a band do a cover of a tune by someone else? Is it ever exactly the same? indeed sometimes the cover is better than the original.
                            (when you hear bobby mcgee do you think cristopherson or joplin? all along the watchtower - dylan or hendrix?)

                            that's my take on all this

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: thew

                              Well said. The cover tune analogy is spot on.

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                To play devil's advocate here - it may not be terribly likely in some cases, but it is never IMPOSSIBLE that two cooks have the same idea and create an identical dish independently, in which case they might never know that someone else is claiming it as his/her own. My mom used cabbage in her frikadellen. When I thought I had some leaves and didn't, I used coleslaw, which turned out to be an improvement. That's been my method ever since. Maybe other people discovered this improvement too, and each thinks s/he is the only one. If I ever see this in a cookbook or on a menu, should my nose be out of joint? No. You can't patent a recipe. You can try to keep it a secret but if someone figures it out, so be it.