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What the hay, Chowhound?

At first, when I couldn’t find a post I had made on Chowhound yesterday morning before I left for work, I chalked it up to my own sloppy surfing. I have been acutely focused on Friday’s talk, as many people from MPOW are coming, which I am finding very stressful to the point of frazzlement and hair-pulling (if I flub a talk 300 hundred miles from home, I can fly home and be done with it; but I see these folks every day).

But then I looked in the cache for Bloglines and found my own Chowhound post and the one that prompted it, in reference to this discussion of Urbane, a new restaurant in Tallahassee.

It’s not even the first Chowhound post of mine that has evaporated into the net-ether. Last week I linked to my review of the Shell Oyster Bar, and that vanished. I thought, well enough: they don’t want bloggers using Chowhound as a honeypot.

But what was wrong with the following posts? (Posting dates refer to Bloglines’ feeds, not to Chowhound’s timeline.) I thought we were having a smart exchange about the nature of expression with respect to food.

And how comfortable are we about living in a world where commercial enterprises calling the shots on intellectual freedom — with nary a word to the authors? Yes, I know they say they can do that — but is that the world we want to live in?

The other poster’s comment (sorry, I don’t remember who it was!), Tue, Feb 12 2008 4:35 PM:

“Coffee & Doughnuts” sounds lifted directly from The French Laundry Cookbook. “Coffee & Doughnuts” is one Thomas Keller’s signature dishes. It is one of my most revered and treasured cookbooks. IMHO it is one thing for a recreational chef to prepare something right from a cookbook, but for a “Chef” who is paid for his creativity, technique, and talent to plaguarize…I would expect more than that. I have followed previous threads on different sites and this topic of chefs plaguarizing has been thoroughly dissected. Bascially, is it right for a chef to put a dish on his menu, take credit for it, when it has been directly lifted from another chef. Take classic dishes for example; Nicoise Salad, Beef Bourgogne, Tarte Tatin, the list is endless. These dishes are constantly replicated, however a good chef will reinterpret. In this case the classic dish is actually a cup of joe with fresh doughnuts. Thomas Keller is world renowned for his whimsical approach to classic dishes. So is it fair for another “chef” to steal his dish, even though it was published in his cookbook (meant for the home cook)?

My response (Wed, Feb 13 2008 9:54 AM):

Well — this was not a cup of joe with doughnuts (which I would not have bothered with); it was a silky mocha semifreddo topped with cream — a fake frozen latte — served with doughnut holes, really very moist, hot quasi-beignets. So if the name is borrowed but the dish is reinterpreted, is that not acceptable? In the literary world, titles of books are not copyrighted; unless someone outright trademarks them in advance, they are not protected. I can’t present the text of Pride and Prejudice as my own, but I can certainly use that title and then whimsically write my own take on this classic. To me this is not “lifting” (let alone plagiarizing) but responding. Food is a conversation. Urbane’s chef replied to Keller, “This is how *I* see this dish.” That to me is not only legitimate but delightful. Riffing on other chef’s interpretations is a way of saying we are all participating in an ongoing discussion about cuisine. Urbane’s interpretation may well be conditioned by the idea that in Tallahassee, palates are far less jaded than in the Bay Area, and a local diner might be acutely disappointed by a dish that would seem cute or whimsical for the culinary Brahmins of the world. I appreciate your erudition here, by the way — I will probably never dine at the French Laundry, but it’s nice to find out that a local dish has more classic roots than I realized. I just hope we never find ourselves dining on “Lamb Shanks French Laundry — All Rights Reserved.”

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9 Comments

  1. Ted Cuzzillo wrote:

    It happened to me, too. In fact, after the first one disappeared I figured it was just my mistake somehow, and I pasted the whole thing in again–and again the next day, again and again and again. It never stuck.

    Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Want to share it here? ;-)

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  3. Mason wrote:

    Yeah, what the hey Chowhound!

    I’ve got a yahoo-pipes-filter-thing set up to grab all of the Tallahassee Chowhound posts, so luckily I caught those two.

    You must have made Chowhound’s blacklist ;)

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  4. Yeah, like what did I say? Is “semifreddo” a naughty word in some other language?

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  5. I had the same thing happen when I posted a note asking if anyone could remember the name of a restaurant that is no longer open. i figured it wasn’t considered relevant and the thread was deleted. I did get the answer I was looking for before they aced it.

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  6. anotherKate wrote:

    I think it’s an interesting exchange, and a similar thread started on another board, like maybe General Chowhounding Topics would probably stick, but it’s pretty far afield from the stated goal of the regional boards which is to help folks “find great chow in that area” (quote from the sticky post on Chowhound etiquette on the “Site Talk” board.)

    Also, I could be totally wrong about this and I’m not trying to dismiss your point about commercial meddling in intellectual freedom but I thought CH posts were deleted by moderators fairly regularly even before they were picked up by CNET. I always thought it was more of a “community norms” thing (I’ve had posts deleted too.)

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  7. Two thoughts.

    1. Due process. Yes, it’s their board and they can do what they want with it. But this really brought home for me the difference between a commercial institution and one for and by people.

    2. Notification? Hello? Oh, I’m guessing they’d say they don’t have the time to do that because they’re running a website.

    Frankly, the phrase that comes to mind is “chilling effect.” Or perhaps “dimming effect.” I don’t feel quite as enthusiastic about Chowhound knowing that posts can be pulled like that… and also being left to guess whether a post will stay or not. Frankly, *I* thought the thread was relevant; it was a discussion about whether a local restaurant was legitimately innovative.

    Friday, February 15, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  8. david wrote:

    The thing with the Chowhound censorship is that what they censor is so innocuous.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  9. David, I concur! And it’s not transparent. I found I’m just not bothering with Chowhound. I don’t trust the site.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 9:40 am | Permalink

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