Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook (1970) and Simple French Food (1974) profoundly shaped American food trends in the 20th century—mostly behind the scenes. They inspired Alice Waters as she launched Chez Panisse, igniting a fresh California cuisine revolution. She, James Beard and Julia Child would all make regular pilgrimages to Olney’s hermitage dwelling in Provence to dine with this genius of the palate.
Success spawns copycats. The culprit here is Richard Nelson’s American Cooking (1983). It is filled with recipes copied verbatim from Simple French Food (and other cookbooks). When food journalists uncovered Nelson’s pilfering, a plagiarism firestorm ensued. But did his blatant recipe copying violate U.S. copyright laws? The answer is nuanced.
Careless recipe gathering derailed Nelson’s once promising career. This post examines the merits of a copyright lawsuit Olney filed to protect his professional reputation.