Cooks Illustrated Cracking Down on Food Bloggers

I was a little shocked to see this post over at Alosha’s Kitchen. The gist of it is that she was asked to take down a potato salad recipe by the publicity agent for Cooks Illustrated. Apparently, they don’t allow their recipes to be reproduced in print without permission, even with modifications. Especially with modifications.

She posted the entire email conversation, so go and read it. It’s fairly astonishing. I found it hard to believe that this kind of behavior is sanctioned by CI. I like their recipes, the magazine and the books, so I want to think the best of the company. Perhaps the publicity agent is acting as a rogue.

But still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So to speak.

The skinny is, in case you were wondering, that you can’t copyright recipes, which are basically a list of ingredients and directions for combining them. No recipe is really original, after all; even CI admits that. You can copyright the specific literary expression used in writing a recipe, but if you rewrite the recipe and modify the ingredients, then it becomes yours.

And asking cooks not to modify a recipe? That’s just bizarre. Isn’t that what the writers at CI do? Melissa cites the example of the no-knead bread recipe that was first published in the New York Times. I believe a modified version of this was published in a recent issue of CI. So I guess what they’re saying is that once they “perfect” a recipe, then no one should modify it because it’s, well, perfect.

I hate to tell them this, but I have cooked a lot of CI recipes, and while many of them are quite good, some of them were spectacularly imperfect.

Good for Melissa, she reposted the recipe. It is a basic potato salad recipe similar to what I would make, although I don’t use sour cream. The point is, nobody can copyright potato salad!

UPDATE: It’s a day after I wrote this post, and I’m still steamed. Unless Cooks Illustrated redeems itself soon, I’ll probably be calling myself a former subscriber.

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10 thoughts on “Cooks Illustrated Cracking Down on Food Bloggers

  1. cooknkate 31 July 2008 at 6:19 am

    I am a former subscriber to CI and Alosha’s post was just another nail in the coffin. There are so many reasons why……but I agree with you on the recipes; some were good but nothing I would rate as fantastic- and with so much objectivity with food in terms of everyone’s individual tastes, like and dislikes, how can ANYONE claim a recipe is perfect??- and so many of the recipes simply fell flat, as in boring, unseasoned, toooooooo futzy (oh my god, too futzy) and a litany of other irks. No one can claim perfection, and no one can copyright an ingredient- the swelled heads of CI and ATK are just far too full of themselves

  2. Shannon 31 July 2008 at 7:43 am

    I agree with you — futzy is the perfect word. A lot of the recipes are just far too futzy. You can’t learn a recipe like that. I am thinking of a particular tomato soup recipe that was very, very good but I would never make it again because there were so many fussy steps involved. That’s a failed recipe, in my opinion — even if it tastes good, if you’d never do it again, it’s not successful.

    I have been very pleased with my subscription to Fine Cooking, which is similar to CI in tips, product reviews and good articles on technique, so that will probably replace CI for me.

  3. sunshine 5 August 2008 at 6:45 am

    Hello, I think it’s terrible and embarrasing for cooks illustrated to act in this manner. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Sarah 6 August 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Wow, I also think Chris Kimball and friends should be embarrassed. We are also former subscribers – primarily because we weren’t using the recipes due to the time involved in making them. But we may check out Fine Cooking as a replacement.

  5. JB 12 August 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I also recieved a similar email from this same publicist, but I simply ignored it. I’m glad I did.

  6. Spyce 25 September 2008 at 5:46 pm

    I abandoned CI a few years ago because I got tired of reading how dreary and unexciting or overly sweet every recipe they ever tried was. Surely they have come across one recipe that was fine as written! The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they came out with the “perfect” southern sweet potato pie recipe which did not contain the traditional spices that they refer to as pumpkin pie spices. According to CI these are not suitable for sweet potato pie. So now they are the authority on southern cooking. Whatever. I put their recipe to the test by submitting it in a United Way bake off at my job. To save myself from disgrace, I submitted that one under my manager’s name! Ha!

    The resutls were as expected, the “tasters” were not pleased! The pie was to orange, bland, and the slices were pretty much abandoned and left over for the event stragglers!

    Besides that, in my opinion recipes should be adjusted according to one’s taste. They seem to have the opinion that their taste is supreme and if a recipe doesn’t suit their taste buds then it’s undesirable and not fit for use.

    Oh, and how about the article about stir frying were they made some idiotic claim that woks did not produce a good stir fry! Geez!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Needless to say, I’m not surprised by their behavior since they act like they are the recipe and taste buds police! I stick to mags like Fine Cooking and Cuisine at Home were your taste buds are allowed to be free and recipes can be changed accordingly!

    Whew, I had to get that off my chest!

  7. Shannon 26 September 2008 at 6:30 am

    I have now let my subscription lapse. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. ari215 16 July 2009 at 5:05 pm

    This blog is great, I thought of subscribing online, but i will not anymore. Thanks

  9. Sarah 6 January 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I just learned about Cook’s Illustrated and all it’s hype and I thought I would look for the contradictory story. I was considering an on-line subscription, but I’ll look at the other magazines instead. I always change recipes and like blogs like Simply Recipes where people make notes about what they did differently or ask questions about the recipe and make their own decisions about how they want to make it from there. For some reason, I thought CI would be like that too. Thanks for the heads-up.

  10. Karen 27 May 2013 at 8:31 am

    FYI, Cook’s Illustrated is just like *every* other food professional or company that publishes and copyrights recipes. I once commented on the Baking 911 website (a paid subscription site) about the similarities between Sarah Phillips’s copyrighted yellow cake recipe (all of her recipes are copyrighted, and the only way you’ll find them is to buy her books or pay for her website subscription-you will not see them on blogs, I guarantee) and the Cook’s Illustrated version. It was, in fact, the exact same recipe: same ingredients, same “reverse-creaming” technique, etc. She went off on me, stating her recipe was very different (in fact, the only differences were the depth of the cake pan she recommended and her insistence upon using cold eggs instead of room-temperature eggs) and that she had “developed” this recipe and any similarities were coincidental, etc. Anyway, you would also encounter this if you posted a recipe from the Food Network, if they found out it was on your website. Meanwhile, I’ve seen recipes copyrighted by Paula Deen, for example, that my family (and many other families) have been making for decades. King Solomon was right: there is nothing new under the sun. :)

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