Kristine Lefebvre is a lot more than her twitter name (@FrenchChefWife) would indicate. The former Apprentice finalist (and yes, Playboy covergirl) is a corporate transactional attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. As such, she's her chef-husband Ludo Lefebvre's (Ludo Bites) attorney, and in a uniquely qualified position to discuss issues like recipe stealing, restaurant trade secrets and, maybe, rumored plans for Ludo's new restaurant. We caught up with her the other day, shortly after the couple returned from New York (and, for Ludo, his native France) for a fund-raising event for the chef's charity of choice, C.H.A.S.E for Life.
Squid Ink: Is there such a field as food and restaurant law?
KL: I'm not sure if you would say there is such a thing as restaurant law. There are real estate and corporate attorneys that specialize in restaurant transactions, attorneys that specialize in endorsements, book deals, licensing, etc. Food law would cover such things as the FDA, heath codes, etc. And of course you have labor issues, and attorneys specialize in restaurants.
SI: Did you work in this field before marrying Ludo, or is it something that became necessary when you married a chef?
Kristine Lefebvre: I worked in intellectual property and licensing before marrying Ludo. Chefs have become brands, so it was definitely helpful that I had worked with celebrity brands in the past. It gives me a basis for doing Ludo's deals. I had just finished a book deal for a client before I did Ludo's deal with Harper Collins, which was helpful. But I had no idea about the nuances of doing a cookbook. Good thing my husband was my first cookbook client.
SI: What's a trade secret? Can a
chocolate foie gras cupcake be a trade secret?
KL: A trade secret is any information (a formula, method, process) that protects the competitive advantage of a business and is not generally known to the public. The best example is the formula for Coca-Cola. Ludo's foie gras cupcake recipe would not be a trade secret because he published it rather than trying to keep it secret.
SI: Who owns a recipe?
KL: If you're referring to a restaurant situation this will usually be determined by contract. In straight forward employee – employer situations there is a legal concept known as work-made-for-hire which functions to automatically vest copyright interests and authorship in works that are created in the scope of employment from the employee (as author) to the employer. Most chefs enter into employment agreements with restaurants which specifically set forth who “owns” their recipes. Some employers will insist that the restaurant “own” the recipes, while others will be satisfied with a non-exclusive royalty free license for an agreed period of time.
SI: Can you copyright a recipe?
KF: There is no straightforward answer. A mere listing of ingredients is not copyrightable, because it is simply a statement of fact and there is no expressive element in each of the listings. However, if the list of ingredients is accompanied by a substantial literary expression in the form of directions or an explanation, there is a possibility that the recipe is copyrightable. If the directions are a mere procedure by which the dishes may be produced it would be excluded from copyright protection. As I said, not an easy answer.
SI: How much of a recipe's content or method needs to be changed before it becomes a new recipe?
KL: The only time a recipe becomes new and should be printed without attribution as “based on” or “inspired by” is when the recipe has been changed so much that it no longer resembles the original recipe. Adding an extra 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to the Toll House recipe does not make it a new recipe that you can claim as your own.
SI: Has Ludo ever had a recipe stolen from him?
KF: Not that he knows of. He has had chefs who have moved on and cooked similar dishes, but that is Ludo's goal–to teach and inspire young chefs who work with him.
KL: 'Tomato 12 Flavors.' I'm not sure if everyone is so polite, but if a chef is going to serves a famous dish of a famous chef, they would look like a fool if they tried to pass it off as their own.
SI: Paula Deen published one of Ludo's recipes? That seems odd, for a lot of reasons. Is she a big fan?
KL: Ludo and Paula were on “Ready, Set, Cook” on Food Network many, many years ago. They are such polar opposites in cooking styles. It is great the way they can inspire each other.
SI: Any plans for another Ludo Bites?
KL: That's still secret.
SI: Aren't you and Ludo getting close to opening a restaurant in Los Angeles?
KL: Ultimately Ludo would like to have a permanent home base, but until the right place comes along, the freedom of the “pop-up” concept works really well. Ludo is having a great time.
SI: And now for a completely gratuitous question. You were on the Apprentice a few years ago. What does Donald Trump eat?
KL: You know, I actually had dinner with him at Spago as one of the rewards during the show and I am not sure he even ate. He would have to stop talking about himself long enough to take a bite. I don't think I have ever seen him put food in his mouth.