Frosting Fraud: Did Food Network Pastry Chef Copy Recipes?

Feb 16, 2012 2:58pm
gty anne thornton jp 120216 wblog Frosting Fraud: Did Food Network Pastry Chef Copy Recipes?

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Food Network dessert star Anne Thornton is embroiled in a culinary controversy. The pastry chef and “Dessert First” host got the axe from her TV show after her recipes were deemed too similar to versions dished out by culinary queen Martha Stewart and the Barefoot Contessa, according to the New York Post.

“The network discovered the similarities during the second season of the show,” an unnamed source told the Post. “They went back and reviewed her first season, and discovered what looked like copying then, too.”

The Post reported that Thornton’s frosting for her German Chocolate Cupcakes mirrored Martha Stewart’s coconut-pecan frosting recipe from the 2009 book, “175 Cupcakes.”

The plagiarism allegations relate to recipe ingredients, but also copycat cooking instructions. Thornton’s Mascarpone-Stuffed French Toast recipe follows nearly identical directions as one in “The Essence of Chocolate” cookbook, and only adds orange zest and a strawberry topping in lieu of maple syrup, the Post reported.

Thornton’s Luscious Lemon Squares also came under fire for their similarities to a recipe penned by the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garden, in 1999.

Plagiarism when it comes to cooking is a notoriously gray area. Chefs of every stripe draw inspiration from others, tweak ingredients and adapt techniques to evolve recipes over time. There is bound to be crossover between basics and classic dishes. Copyright laws are also vague. Under U.S. copyright law, recipes that are “mere listings of ingredients” are not actually protected, while those with “substantial literary expression” that accompany a recipe, i.e. a cookbook, may be covered, but are not necessarily.

A Food Network spokeswoman declined to address the plagiarism allegations, but cited ratings as the reason behind the show’s cancellation.

“Anne’s show, ‘Dessert First,’ was not renewed for a third season based on the show’s performance,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to ABC News.

Thornton, who left a job at Apple to make food her career, attended New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. She worked as a pastry chef at New York City hot spots, The Waverly Inn in 2006 and Hotel Griffou from 2009 until 2010, before making her debut on Food Network in October 2010. Thornton’s second season was a 13-episode run that ended in June 2011. The show was not picked up for a third season.

The pastry chef told the Post that it was the first time she had heard of plagiarism allegations.

“This is all news to me,” she told The Post. “It’s chemistry; it’s not just cooking. So there are always going to be things that are the same. … I get inspiration from all my heroes. You take what you learn from them and then you riff on that.”

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