Still Pissed Off...

If you haven't read about Melissa's Cook's Illustrated problem click here.

It's been twenty four hours and I am still pissed off. I don't do well with two things... arrogance and picking on the little guy and when you mix those two together, it's not pretty.

If you're tempted to make linguine with clams according to the kitchen's preparation, you should understand that the only ingredient that's measured is the pasta. (A serving is four ounces.) Everything else is what you pick up with your fingertips, and it's either a small pinch or a large pinch or something in between: not helpful, but that, alas, is the way quantities are determined in a restaurant. (When a cookbook is prepared, a tester comes to the kitchen, picks up all the ingredients needed to make a dish, and takes them away to translate them into quantities that people at home might recognize. In the foodie publishing world, these testers- who have very white kitchens with carefully calibrated ovens and computerized weighing devices- are despots of the written recipe. But I've never been persuaded by the reliability of the translation. Bill Buford, Heat

While this is talking about cooking in Batali's Babbo restaurant. I think this paragraph sums a few thing up for me.

Here's what made me so upset about CIs response to Melissa recipe. In bullet points 'cause I'm pissed off.

1.) Most chefs, cooks or the mom and dad slaving away at the stove are not measuring when cooking dinner. Baking a cake, yes, you are measuring but cooking... not so much measuring. If you are measuring ingredients for dinner either a.) it's your first time making a dish or b.) you are very inexperienced in the kitchen, and that's okay. I think most chefs would tell you cooking is an improvisational art. Once you can make that switch from measuring to doing, you have truly became a cook.

After your first time making a meal, I am assuming you start switching out ingredients, adjusting cooking times to make it YOUR OWN. Melissa switched out 4 ingredients of potato salad and to me that makes it her own, not CI's. If CI is going to be upset that she modified their recipe they better get a whole gaggle of lawyers and start suing everybody. From the caveman who started barbecuing to all of us. They are going to sue your grandmother who has a family recipe that's been handed down for generations just because it has the same list of ingredients and cooking instructions as July 1988 edition. Do you think I am joking? Because I'm not.

2.) I want to know how you can copyright ingredients and methods? If this were the case, Bourdain would sue Ripert (maybe just a cage match, because I have a dirty mind that way) Joy of Cooking would sue Alice Waters because all their recipes call for peel the potato or turn the oven to 350 degrees. This argument doesn't work for me. A kitchen is a place with many variables. Heat, humidity, cookware, even my measuring cups are different than anybody elses.

For example: Give Melissa and I the same recipe to cook and the dish will probably in all likelihood taste different than hers. Not much but you would be able to tell. Why? All sorts of reasons. She cooks with gas and I have a lousy electric stove. I have heavy duty restaurant cookware that retains heat, she doesn't. I threw in a splash of wine and she added parsley. I could go on and on. The same recipe does not equal the same dish. Never has, never will.

For example: Katie makes chocolate chip cookies for the family all the time. Guess where she gets the recipe from... the back of the Toll House bag. She modifies the recipe by adding one fricking ingredient, almond extract and it dramatically changes the flavor of the cookie. Is it a Toll House recipe anymore or is it Katie's?

3.) My problem is that everyone and their great-grandma's uncle second cousin's dog Duke (Bush's baked beans, and he's trying to give away that recipe!) has a recipe for potato salad. My ex's mother gave me a potato salad recipe, 17 years ago, that's pretty damn close to this one. Adding pickle juice to potato salad is not a new idea. I have at least 20 potato salad recipes because I'm a potato-ho that way. All of them are similar, can I post them? Should I post them? If I made pretty clear modifications to the recipe, who does the recipe belong to now? Is it my own recipe, or is it theirs? Should I write inspired by or when I serve dinner should I announce to my family this meal is trademarked by so and so. When does it become my dish and not the creators of the recipe?

4.) No one recipe is perfect... see reason #2.

5.) Permissions, Credits, and Linking.

phillygirl64 (i'd link you but I can't find anything to link you to.) left an interesting comment on my blog as I was typing this post that I think needs to addressed because I do understand where she is coming from.

A few posts down you say you felt you had to ask permission first from another blogger to print a couple of recipes, but then you criticize CI for requiring permission to print theirs? Or let's say you write a major report...you do all the research, write and revise a number of drafts, then finally type it all out...then someone else comes along, copies it, changes a few things, and calls it their own...how would you feel?

I feel like I have to ask for permission even for a dish that was only inspired by a blog because that is who I am. I don't want the guilt or my reputation to go down the toilet. I want to be a stand up gal. Melissa is the same way. Melissa asked permission* and told them she made modifications to their recipe. (and as most food bloggers do, she would have linked back to them) What pissed me off was the arrogance of the emails. Their recipes are perfect and have been tested over a hundred times (i.e. because they work.) Again see reason 2. Or better yet this comes off sounding like the Soup Nazi. 'No potato salad for you!' or a harpy shrieking about 'how dare you change my recipe!' Sorry CI folks, recipes are changed all the time. I'm smart enough to know if you cook my recipes either...

a.) you are going to change them to suite you and your families taste


b.) it might turn out like shit.

I'm putting myself out there so I'm willing to take that risk. If it does taste like shit, let me know so I can figure out where the recipe went wrong. Hell, knowing me I would probably also take your suggestions and incorporate them into my recipe with permission and links, of course. Also, I think that the food bloggers work on some sort of trust and honor system. I am hoping that you will either e-mail me to ask for permission to post my recipe or at the very least link back to my blog. A bloggers way of bibliography or footnote.

....and yes, I would be pissed about a report phillygirl... talk to Artie who went to UCLA off of all my school work but cooking is a little different. I think we could agree that it like comparing apples to oranges. A potato salad is so common and every recipe is so different but the same, it would be like trying to re-invent the wheel. If you come up with a new cooking style and recipe to go with it, then patent, copyright, do what ever you need do but potato salad, come on. I mean food bloggers rarely put Thomas Keller's recipes on their blogs because they know that his recipes are unique. Oysters and Pearls, anybody? You won't find them anywhere else and that's the difference.

I think everyone is so up in arms because we love food and it threatens our community. (ugh, my bullshit meter went off, but I have no other way of putting that.) We try to run on an honor system and when we try to abide by it and The Man says "Oh no. Can't do that." It upsets our little world. The laws aren't clear and we try our best to work within what we think is right.

Melissa, I'm so proud of you for taking a stand and sticking it to that little prick with the bow tie. I got your back and I'm sure most of the food blogging world does too.

'Cook's Illustrated Go Fuck Off!'

end rant...

* my misunderstanding... she did not ask for permission but did give credit. duly noted and corrected. sorry.


Anonymous said...

I am not technically a foodie or a food blogger, although I do have what appears to be rapidly morphing into a comfort food blog.
But as a cook (28 years of putting dinner on the table just in married life thankyouverymuch) I can tell you that any recipe someone gave me, I saw in a magazine, read on line or witnessed on food network GOT CHANGED. Because a recipe is really just a guideline. I get the copyright thing, buy copyright is usually limited to intelectual property wherein the material is unique in some way. Melissa did a good job of explaining it on her blog yesterday. While I think you can copyright a picture, I think it would be very difficult to copyright a list of ingredients or even cooking instructions.

Emotionally, the email exchange struck a cord because even when Melissa removed the post the exchange was never on a peer basis. The "I'm sorry you're having a bad day" stuff is very passive/aggressive and condescending and it would have angered me had I been the recipient.

In terms of acknowledgement, I'm fine if someone wants to link back as me being the inspiration for whatever they've done with the recipe. Most people do post where they got a recipe from. Frankly, I would be flattered and if it drove additional traffic there, even better. So I struggle with their stance from that perspective as well.
Overall, I do think that their stance on having cornered the market via copywriting these ingredient list is going to be awfully hard to defend. Especially over something as basic as a potato salad recipe.
(I can't help noting that my recipes that I've made a hundred tiems... they don't always turn out exactly the same way when you have the same cook doing it each time!)
Group Hug!

coffee and queso said...

I had a nice little comment going and then got kicked offline, so I'll try and keep this short:

This is just depressing! I'm so new to this and have just assumed if I'm lauding (or even mildly appreciative of) another person's recipe--and announcing that it is in fact THEIR recipe that I used to create MY version--that I was acting responsibly and respectfully. I figure it's free--though well deserved--advertising for that person's books, blog, or other publication.

Now I feel I have to approach with caution, and am a little concerned that I've broken the rules by not asking people if I can reference their creations.


Anonymous said...

CI can stick it...I cancelled my subscription and then when I went to the mail box there was my latest issue of cooks counrty.

Of course it was wrapped up in plastic...surprised there wasn't a padlock on it...and I threw it in the recycling bin...WITH the plastic still on...yes I know I'm a rebel but I had to make sure that anyone who had not paid for the subscription could not get into it and gander at a recipe.

Melissa said...

Hey K. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

I just want to note that I did not ask their permission beforehand. I simply credited them, the same way I would credit, say, a Food Network recipe. And I only did it to be polite because, as has been pointed out, I modified the recipe enough to "make it mine."

I'm still in awe over all the hoopla, but your post has made me see even more clearly why people are (for the most part) on my side about this and why it made everyone so emotional.

Thanks again and I appreciate you saying you're proud of me for posting. Honestly, I feel a little freaked about how much people are talking about me today, a few (thankfully only a few) in less than glowing ways.

Neen said...

Good post. It's got me thinking about why we, as bloggers, are getting so riled up about this. I mean, besides the obvious indignation and stupidity of it all. We foodie bloggers have all had to develop a position about posting other folks' recipes (cookbooks, magazines, etc.) that we feel is responsible and moral. Most of us try real hard to give due credit and not to release unique material that isn't already available free online. The fact that ATK came back and slapped Melissa on the hand, in addition to being unfounded and just plain dumb, struck a chord of self-doubt in all of us. Just look at Mindy's comment above.

I think we're also upset, legitimately, because the food blog community and recipe sharing in general is a very comforting, bonding, relatively selfless, feel-good experience. Both in real life and in virtual life, sharing recipes is almost completely devoid of competition or animosity. Very warm and fuzzy. The ATK interaction was like a gust of frigid wind blowing through our kitchen, interjecting all the petty, yucky sentiments that rarely surface in our community. It was a real shock to the system.

I had planned to make ATK's enchiladas tonight, but I'm still feeling uncomfortable with the whole thing. Maybe I'll merge it with a Real Simple recipe, and give them the credit. One commenter on Melissa's site suggested the new convention "Inspired by They Who Shall Not Be Named." :) It makes me so sad, because I like ATK's philosophy about cooking in general (very scientific, very Do). I wonder how much of this policy is due to ATK, and how much to the Deborah Broide Publicity.

enough. moving on. until dinner time, at least.

Lisa said...

As angry as all of this makes me, it kind of makes me laugh that Cook's Illustrated is the one behind all of this. Their recipes are so anal-retentively detailed that almost everyone makes alterations--or it would take them ten hours to get dinner on the table.

Neen said...

Alright, you inspired me. I posted a better-worded version of my comment above on my blog. And I quote you as inspiration. gasp. Don't sue.

Anonymous said...

Wow! High fives to you for taking the time to write that post! Incredible job by the way! I agree 100%...and I will continue to ask permission from blogland friends to post their recipes and I will continue to attribute who the recipe is from but if I change one ingredient or one direction that changes the original recipe so I put "adapted"...and then, really, if it's been changed it's mine...I don't care WHAT anyone says! I am making a note to have you in my corner when I need help...you are a DYNAMO! Nan

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

I don't know how you can even "copyright" a recipe. These corporations copyrighting everything -- from recipes to life forms to bacteria -- are totally out of hand.

While I respect the right that ATK/CI/CC have to make money, I do not think they should do it by intimidating people into "respecting" their copyright. Come on! They didn't invent the potato salad! That they now want to get their dues on every potato salad recipe similar to theirs is preposterous.

Anonymous said...

Every recipe I've ever made is mine now, get it? All the other mf's can get lost. IT'S MINE I SAY!

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. But seriously, it's a good damn thing I'm not writing a food blog because I'd be in some serious trouble.

Best post on food and cooking I've ever read, hands down. You are the master, Evil Chef Mom!

Mayberry Magpie

P.s. Just wondering . . . does Rich like it when you're pissed off? You're kind of sexy that way :-)

Anonymous said...

Potato salad will never be the same after this fiasco. In fact, CI's potato salad is almost exactly like the one my grandmother use to make. Maybe I need to write them and ask them to remove my grandma's recipe from their site?

Anonymous said...


Good work. Instead of regurging what everyone has already said, I'd just like to point out that one of your tags/labels for the post sums up the entire episode perfectly...WTF.


Anonymous said...

Great post. While I TOTALLY accept their right to make money off their recipes, they're really being foolish about protecting the recipes. In theory, if you make a recipe and give credit to a website or organization who originally PUBLISHED it, not OWNS it, readers will want to see more recipes.

Personally, I don't think I've EVER made a recipe verbatim, not even on the first try. Because sometimes I forget to buy cilantro. Or I hate 5 spice (really, I do). ETC...

I think this rankles so many people because we love to cook (or eat), we love to make people feel good, and we love to share. CI's attitude is just so contrary to the whole idea of giving, which is what so many cooks are, givers. Someone commented on Melissa's blog that the days of the person who so jealously guards a recipe are dead. If you're that stingy, get a life and find some better way to feel better about yourself. CI should just open their arms and give the world their "perfect" recipes so they can bask in the glory of being "perfect".

Peter M said...

Ahahaha, good rant and an even better ending!

I wonder how the staff meeting is going this week? I think they'll only be able to test a recipe 25 times!

Tempered Woman said...

Devil's advocate here~ I'm a registered user of the CI website. I absolutely understand that people who cook for a living have a right to make money from that livelihood. If a cookbook author asked me to remove a recipe because essentially it could keep someone from *paying* for the cookbook and then making money off of their hard work then I would completely understand. The reason *why* they would know I had used their recipe is because as a courtesy when I have been inspired/altered/used a recipe I feel it is only right to credit that source.
With that said- CI went above and beyone being the ultimate @$$holes in this situation. They had a PR person badly handle email conversations and purport that the recipe was copyrighted. Uhm, nope. As a courtesy Melissa referenced where she got an original recipe. She altered the recipe to make it her own. The way the PR person explained it, the problem wasn't that she had used their recipe but that she dared to mention their name attached to the recipe in any way. This is what we like to call in marketing "bad PR." They obviously have no clue how many bloggers have gone out to *buy* cookbooks because someone blogs about a recipe and mentions how valuable the book is to them. Lucky for us, people like Dorie Greenspan, on the hand, does understand the way word of mouth works.
And their testing? I'd like to know how much of that is actual in the kitchens testing and how much is the volunteer network they have established for testing recipes. Uh huh. People like you and me who test the recipes for fun. Then fill out a survey. Unpaid.
Nice catch on the Heat quote too by the way, I think about that every freaking time I see a new restaurant-based cookbook, heh.

Jennifer said...

I am still pissed too, and I managed to piss off my husband who is in Costa Rica this week by sending it to him. There is no original recipe in the world, it has all been done before! by someone at some time in the past!

Mental P Mama said...


Sharon said...

I've ranted about this all over the place, but just wanted to let you know that you bring up some excellent points, especially your end note. :)

I wonder what they're doing over at CI right about now...in the end, it probably won't change anything as I'm sure they're hoping this little web tirade will die off.

Mary Beth said...

We made the potato salad with egg and bacon last night to go with grilled pork chops. It was so good we had trouble putting away the leftovers. I cut the potatoes into bite size pieces before I cooked them so they were still hot when I added them to the egg and bacon - oh yum! The smells alone got me drooling.

Very good choice:)

Snooty Primadona said...

Here is what I posted over at Melissa's:

I've been cooking for 45 years and have modified more recipes than anyone can imagine. If I wrote a cookbook, my stories about cooking and the way I do things is simply my story and my way of doing things. Just because some group comes along and claims that it's their recipe does not make it so. My own grandmother protected her recipes with great zeal, for a reason. They were unique and interesting... not the run-of-the-mill everyday recipes like one finds at a place like CI. I guess what I'm saying is that they can make as much fuss as they want, but if I use one of their run-of-the-mill recipes and change a few ingredients and some of the directions, then it is my own and therefore, I should not have to even post a link to them. Period. I wouldn't even think about it. You are much nicer than I.

And her condescending emails really got my flaps going. "I'm sorry you're having such a bad day?" I would have totally jumped down her throat. What a bitch. I'm sure I would have said something like "Actually, I'm having a lovely day. It's this shit sandwich you've handed me that I'm having problems dealing with, lol. However, it still won't cost me my day. You people are the only ones having the problem. Not I. I was actually attempting to send more readers your way because I have a huge following. Guess you didn't want more readers. OK. Oh, and please do feel free to take your copyright bullshit for Potato Salad and shove it straight up your anal retentive assholes." Yes, I'm quite the diplomat, aren't I?

I also look at it this way... If I reprint a food blog recipe, I always link to the blog, but have only done that once. But, geeze loueeze, there are gazillions of potato salads out there. How does one copyright a recipe that has been around waaaay longer than the person wanting a copyright on it? WTF? I was making potato salad long before those little shits over at CI were even glints in someone's eye. I mean, come on! Let's get real people. This whole thing is ludicrous on CI's part. Hey you people over at Cooking Illustrated need to GET OVER YOURSELVES. You are NOT UNIQUE CI. On the other hand, I like this blog and now I'll be a diehard fan, thanks to CI, lol. This blog IS UNIQUE. So screw you, CI. And screw that snippy little person you have riding shotgun for you. If I had her job, I'm afraid I'd have to kill myself, lol.

Magpie said...

Great rant. (I do love a good rant.)

This whole thing is crazy - because, as you rightly point out, cooking is art. Sure, there's technique in there, but it's art. And if I take a recipe and use basil instead of rosemary, I've made it mine.

I don't have a subscription to CI, but I almost want to go through my whole blog and put "nspired by CI" on every recipe post - just to piss 'em off.

Anonymous said...

hmmm....maybe we should all make their potato salad and post it on our blogs for the next Potato Ho event? Going to far? Sigh. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe all this is happening. I have spent almost an hour on your site and reading Melissa's e-mail exchange. I am EXHAUSTED and FUMING at how those bullying shit heads over at CI and affiliates are treating Melissa.

Actually I'm glad to now that you are so pissed, because that means you care. We should all care about this matter because it applies to all of us in one way or another.

Simply put, I really don't give a crap if people print my recipes or pictures. As long as they give me some credit, link or don't claim it as their own, then I'm fine. There are way too many more important matters for me to lose sleep over. Besides, I see it as a compliment if someone mentions my recipe on their blog.

Unfortunately, I do know of people out there who are very anal retentive about their work and how it is to be "properly" shared, linked, etc...

At the end of the day, I see it as sharing and if anyone gets so obsessive their stuff, then get the hell out of the blogging world.

Good rants ECM.

Anonymous said...

Great post and here's a little something that occured to me after I wrote my own post: If copyrighting recipe WERE possible, wouldn't Coca Cola have done it? I mean they are more powerful than any other food company in the world, wouldn't their lawyers have found a way to copyright their recipe!

amandalouden said...

cooking is individual, art, etc. No blogger, chef, or cookbook can take credit for a recipe. Nothing is orginal...just modified from something else. Even if you are making from scratch without a recipe you have an idea of what should be in because of something you tasted or saw before. Its all crap.

Anonymous said...

This issue has been so passionately discussed, and I admire the stand of the food blogging community on this one. CI seems very pretentious. I read where someone said something to the fact that if they have to test their recipes 100 times, maybe they shouldn't be cooking. If it takes 100 times to get it right, then they should look at a different line of work ;)

Great post!

Tart Reform said...

Ok, just a warning, I am going to leave another comment in a moment but I wanted to get this out first.


You can copyright literary tidbits or unique writng styles that may appear in a recipe (think: the history of the name or a creative comparison to describe how to cut the potatoes) but you cannot legally copyright directions.

As soon as I have a chance I will be posting about case law and the regulations that make CI not just rude but legally out of bounds.

Tart Reform said...

Ok- I finally had time to write me thoughts on this.


Tart Reform said...

I would love if you linked it! I was so angry about it that I'd love to get out the truth!

Carolina deWitte said...

Hey! I was sure I was the only one that used pickle juice in potato salad. You MUST have stolen that idea from me...LOL! It's funny, cos potato salad is one of my favourite American dishes, and I've never made it the same way twice, I'm sure. I mean, maybe it always has potatoes, but all else is up for the moment of creation, including which kind of potatoes I'm using, and even if peeled or unpeeled. And, although most often I use the 'classic' ingredients, how much of each is never the same, and if I'm out of celery, say, then I substitute something else. I can't believe anyone would try to 'copyright' a salad, OR any other recipe for that matter. Yes, this issue has made me really angry. On the upside, I've discovered lots of new food blogs by following links from the comment section of Melissa's blog. Oh, I just now canceled my Cook's subscription(s) No big loss to me, BTW, I have about 10 other subscriptions to food and beverage mags. (Most of which are better than Cooks.) I could go on for hours, but I won't, at least for now.


Carolina deWitte said...

BTW...did you know that some scientist has patented a human gene? Really. A gene that all of us carry is now patented by some scientist. I don't know how he was allowed to do that. Does that mean every human will have to pay him for having that gene? Just a thought, I'm going to see if I can locate the story by Googling for it.

Anonymous said...