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At What Point is a Recipe Yours? [from General Topics]

So, you see a recipe in a book. You make it. You change it. Over the years it evolves into exactly how YOU like it. Whose recipe is it? You have changed the seasoning, the cooking method, added another component, etc. Cookbook authors and chefs all have "their own" recipes for simple things like pie pastry - most of them are remarkably alike. So, should they not be claiming these as their own? I don't want to claim someone else's recipe as mine, but I rarely leave a recipe as I found it. What do all of you think?

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  1. Well, if it's something I adapt, then I usually note my adaptations, so that anyone I give the recipe to can judge for themselves whether my adaptations are improvements. (So, I am a securities lawyer.)

    Then there are blended recipes: recipes where I merge two or more different approaches to the same idea. In those cases, I normally will identify the original sources, but not get into too much detail about what changed in the merger. (On Chowhound, my best example would be my ragu alla bolognese, which uses both Marcella Hazan and Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's recipes, but with further emendations of my own based on my reading and experience in modulating that recipe over the years).

    Then there are recipes I actually create from scratch: my AAA (Almost All American) Chili con carne is one of those. That's mine, entirely, as it were.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      <<<(On Chowhound, my best example would be my ragu alla bolognese, which uses both Marcella Hazan and Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's recipes, but with further emendations of my own based on my reading and experience in modulating that recipe over the years).>>>

      In that example, Karl S, would you ever enter that recipe in some sort of "contest" as an original recipe? When do you think it becomes an "original" or "your own"? Certainly, tweaking by one or two minor things would still be a "tweak" of *someone else's recipe*- but combining two recipes, changing up a technique or two -and changing up ingredients....would that now be Karl S bolognese?

      I do this alot myself and I often wonder about the same thing.

      1. re: sedimental

        It depends on the context of the contest. And I'd still cite my original sources in a general way. (For that recipe in particular, it's important to understand the merger of two heavyweight "authentic" approaches).

    2. "So, should they not be claiming these as their own? "

      There are only a limited number of things you can do with food. Dishes are bound to show strong similarities. The OP's mention of pastry would be a case in point.

      1. Ehh..I kind of give credit where credit is due--but I also mention me. For example. "Have some of MY Martha Stewart Eggnog"...or "Want some of MY Ina Pumpkin Roulade?" ...or even.."Tonight we are having Jamie Oliver Quail"....it's theirs, but it's mine:)

        1. I think just as you can't fault a recipe once you start substituting/adding ingredients or changing methods, once you do something substantively different its yours, though I would generally suggest a footnote - "Based on sandylc's Chili Con Carne"

          After ATK's extensive trials their suggestion for cranberry sauce was "use recipe on bag, add 1/2 tsp salt" but if i replace water with cider I'm calling it mine

          1. I wonder if anybody has ever been charged with copyright infringement for publishing as their own somebody else's recipe that they merely tweaked? In other words, I wonder if the courts have spoken to this issue?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              I believe they have -- and as long as it's not the EXACT recipe -- all's fair.

              Not a lawyer, but I think it's been challenged before.

              I agree with the "based on" reference -- but if I've changed the ingredients, the cooking times, etc., -- yeah, it's mine.

              But reading the reviews of online recipes is always good for a laugh -- they change ALL the ingredients, add or subtract the quantities, fiddle with cooking times and temperatures, and then bitch because it wasn't very good.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                My understanding is that you can copyright the exact *text* of a recipe, but not the combination of ingredients or techniques used, or the general idea.

                I'm not a lawyer, but it occurs to me that if you want to claim the rights to a new process or idea, you'd have to go for a patent, not a copyright. New drugs, for example, are patented, rather than copyrighting the recipe.

                There was a case a few years ago, I can't remember the people involved, but where two 'sneaking veggies into your kids food' cookbooks came out at about the same time, and one author sued the other for stealing the idea. They didn't get far. It's kind of like suing someone for writing a book about brooding teenage vampires because they stole the idea.

                As far as claiming a recipe goes - if I can take a photocopy of an existing recipe, and make a few notes about changes in the margins, I'll claim it as a modified recipe. If I have to rewrite it completely for it to make sense, it's now my recipe.

                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                  <I can't remember the people involved>

                  Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Levine. This is the most recent article I could find about it. Your brooding vampire analogy is apt.

                  http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/jer...