I have a favorite chocolate cake that I've made probably 100 times. People go crazy for it. The recipe is not an heirloom family creation or of my own invention; it's from the insert that used to come in Scharffenberger's 62% chocolate bar (in its pre-Hershey's incarnation). I believe it is an adaptation of the chocolate orbit cake from David Lebovitz's fantastic cookbook, Room for Dessert. It's a rich and super dense flourless number that always comes out great.
I'm fascinated by issues of originality and ownership in cooking. A friend's mother once requested the recipe after I brought the cake to a party, quickly adding, "Only if you're willing to give out the recipe, that is." I can't imagine not sharing the recipe, especially because the recipe isn't even my creation to begin with! I forwarded her the recipe, but started thinking more about cooks who are proprietary about their specialty dishes. I know another woman who is famous for her English toffee. And hot damn, if that isn't the best English toffee in the entire universe, for reals. But as far as I know, she has never divulged that recipe to anyone.
So who owns a recipe? How does one claim authorship of this roast chicken or that chocolate cake? Because unless you're working at El Bulli, Alinea or WD-50, it's doubtful you're doing anything new. Very few preparations or flavor combinations are happening on my kitchen counter that have never been tried before.
I think the core of this conversation is acknowledgment and credit, and how complicated it is in this media landscape. There are so many recipe blogs out there, many by genuinely accomplished chefs and home cooks. But the lack of crediting sources is troubling. I saw a recipe on a blog recently that was an obvious rehash of a dish from famous restaurant cookbook. Just because this chef replaced mint with parsley and cooked it for 15 minutes longer, does she get to say it is an entirely new and original recipe and get away without even mentioning its inspiration?
Now, to come clean. In my last post I added in a few recipes. Let me credit those properly.
The potato gratin comes from a very classy vegetarian cookbook my sister gave me a million years ago, called The Complete Vegetarian Cuisine. It's got beautiful photographs and relatively upscale food. (Though who's to say that this cookbook's gratin is an original recipe anyways? It's only a variation of a traditional French preparation that's been made a zillion times over a few hundred years. Nonetheless, it's a great book that was very formative in my early years of cooking.)
The kale-chip technique was taught to me by my friend Remy's brother, at a dinner party a few months ago. Now I can't stop making them myself.
The fruit crisp is technically called Willie's Crisp, and my introduction to it was through a little promotional pamphlet from Saveur, well over 15 years ago. Again, this recipe is a classic one—in the recipe's headnotes, it is credited to Marion Cunningham, who in turn credits a kid named Willie. It is always wonderful.