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Mar 16, 2013 04:05 PM

When is a recipe "yours," as opposed to the author you got it from?

You've decided to make Ethnic Meat Stew and use a recipe from the website or cookbook of famed Ethnic chef Telly Celebrity.

When you make it, you like it as a base but start changing things each time you make it. Clearly, if you just double the black pepper to 1 tsp from 1/2 it's "Telly Celebrity's Ethnic Meat Stew with extra pepper." If you use rabbit instead of duck, I still think it's "Telly Celebrity's Ethnic Meat Stew, with rabbit substituted."

How much change do you feel you have to make to a recipe before you can start calling it "My Ethnic Meat Stew based on Telly Celebrity's recipe?" What about "inspired by?" At what point is the recipe yours alone and you feel you can ethically drop Mr. Celebrity's name entirely?

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  1. I almost never follow a recipe exactly but neither do I call it mine unless I have thought it up. Even in that case, for all I know, somebody else has had the same inspiration. So IF I title a recipe at all (I seldom do), it is not eponymous. It strikes me as evidence of egotism when people put their names in their recipes. I suspect Telly C's recipe was an adaptation taken from elsewhere, as well.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      I don't think I've ever called a recipe "mine", even when I just wing it and don't base it on another. For the most part these days, you'd be hard pressed to find a recipe that has little similarity to another. Overall, I think it's like art--if the original recipe creator recognizes it as close to his/her own, you haven't changed it enough.

    2. I think all recipes should be in the public domain, with no attributions as they evolve. Ego and mercantilism should be set aside for the benefit of CH'ers and more broadly, mankind....

      3 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        There should be some recipes left to the province of an individual author and leave mankind spared of such attribution.

        Lest aliens come visit us some eons from now and think less of all of us simply because one person's culinary creations.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          LOL, let's let Sandra Lee keep the kwanzaa cake recipe under her name.

          1. re: chowser

            yea and everything else Scamdra makes that doesn't work.

      2. I too never follow a recipe verbatim. But if I post about it, I will give credit where due, but say it is "loosely based off Telly's recipe".

        1. Apropos discussion linked below from Serious Eats. There's an interesting comment that 3 is the magic number of changes used to determine the eligibility of entries in cooking contests, meaning that if they were to Google your recipe and find similar ones, the entry is only eligible if at least 3 ingredients are different in yours.

          I personally only think a recipe is "mine" if I've created it from beginning to end or made quite a few changes - let's say at least 5 - to the ingredients and/or methods in someone else's recipe. Otherwise I'll say it's "my take" on the original recipe (or something similar) and attribute proper credit. I imagine I sometimes err too far on the side of caution - I've often found myself saying that I use Author Y's recipe for Dish X, but instead of rosemary I use thyme, and I swap sherry vinegar for balsamic, and I cut the salt by half and use sea salt instead of table salt, and I use chicken thighs instead of breasts, and I add capers, and I oven-roast it in a casserole dish instead of cooking it on the stove....and obviously at that point it has become my recipe, and instead of Dish X, it's Dish Z.

          At the end of the day, I really believe it's about major alterations to the flavor and/or texture of a dish. IMHO, making the cookies square instead of round, adding an extra half-teaspoon of vanilla and dusting them with powdered sugar doesn't really make them yours.

          5 Replies
          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            And, sometimes when you make enough substitutions, the original recipe creator might appreciate not having it attributed to him.her. I have passed on recipes and the person makes so many changes that I wouldn't do that I'd rather it not be associated with me ("instead of making ravioli, I used Chef Boyardee...")--you see it enough in recipe reviews.

            1. re: chowser

              Absolutely In fact, I think that's what caused the big to-do when Cook's Illustrated wanted to sue a blogger who published her "adapted" version of one of their recipes. I believe their argument was that they test their recipes exhaustively and if hers wasn't good it would reflect poorly on them to be associated with the failure.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                That was their argument, yes, but I never believed it. I think they just very tightly want to control their intellectual property. Face it, CI only has about 400 recipes that they just keep tweaking and reprinting over and over. They have much to lose by letting their recipes out into the wild, wild web.

                il divo mentioned Von's oatmeal cookies. I'd never heard of them, but found this fascinating chowhound thread...


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I was doubtful at first but then there are a lot of bloggers who have posted CI recipes with no changes and they still remain. I have been able to find every CI recipe I want, by googling.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I would like to stubbornly cling to my opinion, but I find your comment very interesting. I, too, have found several CI recipes out there by googling, but I just chalked it up to them not being able to keep up with the volume of blogging out there and choosing their battles... But you might also be right. :)


          2. Thanks for your thoughts, all. I've also been thinking that there would have to be more modifications to a highly innovative or original dish than to a more traditional one before I claimed it as my own. For example, if I took a recipe for "Roast Beef with Wild Mushroom Sauce and Caramelized-Shallot Mashed Potatoes," (which I have), I'd want to make a lot of changes before I claimed it as my own. On the other hand, for "French Onion Soup" I'd claim a recipe with only small changes, unless the base recipe I used had something with strongly distinguished it from the other billion or so French Onion Soup recipes out there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: nokitchen

              I have to say, that the more common the recipe like French Onion Soup, or Tomato Sauce are far more likely to become the home-cook's "own" recipe much faster than a more specific recipe.

              I don't think I've ever used a recipe for making pesto - but the fact that I use tomato paste in order to cut down how much oil I use is something I learned from my mother who got it from an old Moosewood cookbook. So I'm happy calling it "my pesto" - but when talking about how I make it - I do refer back to the Moosewood as providing the initial guidance for using tomato paste.

              Another thing is that when I make mujadarra, I usually use a few different recipe to account for different things - plus I add extra spices to what's listed. At this point I wouldn't say it's "my" mujadarra - but it's also not really anyone else's since I reference 3 or so recipes.