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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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