Park Kitchen was recently contacted by a lawyer inquiring about legislating the creativity of cooking, to protect the intellectual property of chefs. As laughable as this may seem, it already exists at many levels regarding processes and labeling, but the idea of extending the law to include recipes seems like a litigious nightmare. Who will be the lucky person to own the rights to hollandaise, and how long will it take to encompass the rights to making butter or bacon? Once the process begins, how long will it take to include the protection of ingredients?
I am about to take a vacation to the Great Lakes area and experience the culinary creations of the creative chefs cooking there. Chicago is one of America's capitals of molecular gastronomy, in which chef's take food sciences and apply them to fanciful restaurant creations. Some of these processes are protected by law, such as Homaro Cantu's edible paper at Moto. The chef has used food based inks and printed them on starch based papers, so that you can eat the menu. Chef Cantu also requires his cooks to sign a confidentiality contract to protect his ideas.
This kind of protection through secrecy is moving from a traditional to a more legislated phenomenon. In the old days, the means by which a chef created his masterpiece was part of the wonder, sometimes speculated or imitated by contemporaries. This trend toward intellectual property has already taken a dark turn in the U.S. Patent Office, and should serve as a warning to what is possible. Consider the 1980 case "Diamond vs. Chakrabarty," in which a scientist working for General Electric submitted a patent on a bacterial microbe that could act as a detergent to help clean up oil spills. Of course, at that time, living things could not be patented, but the decision was reversed, and has opened the flood gates of patenting every living function on the planet. Today's companies can capture the rights to life ranging from human genomes to genetically modified plant seed, the raw ingredients of life! Chicken bones are patented as a treatment for arthritis! Where do we draw the line between the intellectual property of God and man?