PARIS — Some French chefs are doing a slow burn at seeing their recipes reproduced without credit in France and all over the world. Many would like to form a society for the protection of authorship, or maybe "chef-ship."
It would be based on legal principles similar to those that protect music writers, which ensure that musical pieces may not be performed without credit and royalties to authors.
Alain Senderens, three-star chef and owner of Paris' Lucas Carton, said: "Our work should be patented. We're copied indiscriminately even in France. After all, even in the 4th Century BC, Greek chefs did not steal ideas from one another. Each rich house had its own secret recipes.
"I've seen my own invention, fried celery, in several places," he said. "Composers can be protected against plagiarism, why not us?"
Had It 'Up to Here'
Jacques Maximin of the famed Chantecler Restaurant in the Negresco Hotel in Nice, agreed. "I've had it up to here," he said. He is indignant at finding others' menus listing fleur de courgette, which he claims he invented. It is a dish that consists of stuffed, braised zucchini flowers.
"We're not so interested in the money," said Michel Guerard, famous for inventing minceur cuisine (diet cooking) in his restaurant at Eugenie-les-Bains in southwest France.
"My salade gourmande with foie gras, crayfish and truffles has been copied all over the world. Some of my friends, however, have added my name to their menus if they use the recipe. That's courteous," Guerard said.
He feels that only a few recipes are invented yearly by creative chefs, and that it's a shame when French chefs working in America, for example, come to France to find new ideas and then pass them off back at their restaurants as their own dishes.
"We're not trying to start a 'war,' " he said, "just get matters back on a moral and maybe legal basis in the food world."
About 40 other top chefs here agree but are not sure about how to organize such a copyright system.
Others are downright dubious. "We'd look pretty ridiculous getting too picky about these things," said Jean-Pierre Morot-Gaudry, who owns a top restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. "Recipes always turn out differently anyhow, depending on the chef's personal preference.
"It's one thing to sue for plagiarism if a recipe in a book is copied word for word, but food you eat in a restaurant is always different according to how a chef interprets an idea."
Julia Child, America's queen of cuisine, expressed the same doubts. Speaking from Santa Barbara, where she is working on her seventh cookbook, she said, "The chefs of course have a point in being disturbed that others copy their ideas.
"Cookbooks are one thing. Recipes are right down there in black and white and may not be copied. But food you eat? You can't copyright that. It's in the public domain. It would be nice, however, if chefs gave credit to others who have created recipes they use."
Dominique Nahmias, owner of Olympe restaurant and considered Paris' top creative woman chef, thinks copyrighting restaurant dishes is downright silly.
"It's even dangerous for cuisine," she said. "If you start saying that such and such a dish belongs to one chef only and must be credited and paid for on a copyright basis, creativity will be totally strangled in a legal straitjacket.
"Most basic dishes were invented long ago, and the new twists are given by each chef. Italians invented ravioli. But I was the first to serve fresh ravioli French-style, stuffed with shrimp, herbs and other things. I've seen versions of these on many other menus, and it doesn't upset me at all," she added.