San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Accused of Pastry Plagiarism

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A pastry plagiarism battle has broken out in San Francisco after Bay Area pastry chef Caitlin Freeman accused the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of copying her art-themed cakes.

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Freeman and her husband James opened the Blue Bottle café on the museum’s fifth floor in 2009, where she created a range of cakes and pastries in the likeness of artworks by masters such as Andy WarholJeff Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein. The standout was reportedly her signature Piet Mondrian cake.

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Freeman even wrote a cookbook in 2013 titled Modern Art Desserts, and the Blue Bottle café has since grown into a national chain with locations across the US.

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But when SFMOMA reopened after a multi-year renovation and expansion, the Freemans lost the contract to the fifth floor café to McCalls Catering.

The fact that her creations are being copied by a rival after the museum chose not to renew Blue Bottle’s contract is especially difficult for Freeman to understand. “If they didn’t want what I was doing, then why is this happening?” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It makes me not what to go back to the museum, but it’s so beautiful.”

Unfortunately, there’s little room for legal redress for plagiarism in the food industry, although copycats can suffer damage to their reputation. “It’s so tacky and so gross, but there’s kind of nothing I can do about it,” Freeman added. “I guess I just have to feel good that I wrote the goddamn book on art desserts.”

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For most of the history of cooking, recipes were shared, passed around, copied and reused without much of a though to attribution. Some of this is because many things can only be made one or two ways and it is an issue of chemistry rather than creativity.

But through mass media and, more recently, the Internet and cable television, we have seen the rise of the celebrity chef.

While it’s worth noting that this trend goes back much, much farther, the modern history of the celebrity chef begins roughly in the 50s and 60s thanks to the rise of television, with a drastic uptick over the past 20 years thanks to the Internet.

Part of being a celebrity chef is having a large library of recipes for your fans to try. This includes cookbooks, TV shows, newsletters, websites, blogs and more. For celebrity chefs, the pressure to create (or have their staff create) new, original recipes is great, especially considering how competitive the market is.

As a result, recipe plagiarism has been on the rise, along with the debate about recipe plagiarism itself.


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