Could Oprah Winfrey's televised blessing become an embarrassment for recipient Jessica Seinfeld?
After the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld appeared Oct. 8 on Winfrey's show to discuss her cookbook, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food, online message boards erupted with questions about the originality of the book's premise.
Winfrey extravagantly praised Deceptively Delicious, which explains how to slip healthy food into children without their knowledge. For example, add avocado to chocolate pudding or put chickpeas in chocolate-chip cookies. It suggests adding vegetable and fruit purees to food.
Deceptively zoomed up the best-seller lists. The $24.95 book is No. 2 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. More than 1.2 million copies are in print.
Soon after Seinfeld's appearance on the talk show, postings at Amazon.com and Oprah.com noted that there is another cookbook that advocates these same techniques and specific ingredients: The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine, the former publisher of Eating Well magazine. Published in April by Running Press, the book has 150,000 copies in print.
"I'm surprised that on the Oprah show this was being touted as an entirely new technique pioneered by Ms. Seinfeld," Lapine said Saturday.
The idea of stealth nutrition is not new, Lapine says. "My grandmother used to do it," she says, but her book is the product of five years of research. "My book is not just a concept. My book is a how-to manual."
Moreover, she adds, "I'm concerned and troubled that Oprah credited and applauded someone else for a technique that was out there six months earlier."
Winfrey was not available for comment.
Lapine says she and her publicists pitched the Oprah show five times without success. She also points out she submitted her 139-page book proposal with 31 recipes and 11 purees twice to HarperCollins (Seinfeld's publisher), once in February 2006 without an agent and again with an agent in May 2006.
"The one big fact is that they had access to my manuscript early on," Lapine says. Seinfeld's book was signed up in June 2006.
"There are at least 15 of my recipes that ended up in her book," Lapine says. However, she says, recipes are hard to protect: "If you change one ingredient, you're safe." She says that after her publisher contacted HarperCollins, Deceptively's cover was modified from the one featured on a promotional brochure. The word "simple" was inserted in place of "sneaky."
"Seinfeld is a big name, and it garners more attention than someone who doesn't have a big name," Lapine says. She and her publisher have no comment on possible legal action.
Responding to the brouhaha, Seinfeld issued a statement: "My book came from years of trying to get my own children to eat healthy foods -- my own trial and error in my own kitchen. The idea of pureeing vegetables has been around for decades. I have never seen or read this other book. I do hope it is successful and brings even more attention to child nutrition."
Seinfeld's publisher, Steve Ross, insists "she wasn't influenced by anyone else's ideas." Seinfeld cooks these dishes herself, he says. "I don't think money affects whether one cooks or doesn't cook."
Says Seinfeld's agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh: "We can never get enough of building up our celebrities and then tearing them down. But in this case they've chosen the wrong person, because Jessica Seinfeld is above reproach."