Intellectual property has always been pretty dodgy when it comes to recipes and cookery–they've traditionally joined dress designs and mathematical algorithms on the list of non-protected property. Now Rebecca Charles, the chef of Pearl's Oyster Bar, a ten-year old restaurant in the West Village that made lobster rolls chic, is suing her former sous chef Ed McFarland, claiming that his restaurant, Ed's Lobster Bar, copies "each and every element" of her restaurant.
The detail that seems to gnaw at her most is a $7 appetizer on Mr. McFarland's menu: "Ed's Caesar."
She has never eaten it, but she and her lawyers claim it is made from her own Caesar salad recipe, which calls for a coddled egg and English muffin croutons.
She learned it from her mother, who extracted it decades ago from the chef at a long-gone Los Angeles restaurant. It became a kind of signature at Pearl. And although she taught Mr. McFarland how to make it, she said she had guarded the recipe more closely than some restaurateurs watch their wine cellars.
[Charles] acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another narrow, unassuming place, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. But she said she had spent many months making hundreds of small decisions about her restaurant's look, feel and menu.
Everyone steals from everyone until someone has the bright idea to sue. Some chefs are using contracts: Chef Homaro Cantu "makes his cooks sign a nondisclosure agreement before they so much as boil water at Moto, his restaurant in Chicago."