I want to be there on New Year’s Eve when they seal the 2006 time capsule, because I’ ve found a restaurant dish that will tell future earthlings everything they need to know about what happened to food this year. It comes from Chicago—finally, improbably, the most talked-about dining destination in America. It’s the creation of Homaro Cantu of Moto restaurant, one of a handful of avant-garde chefs who believe they are leading cuisine into the future, and it looks like something Rosie the robot might whip up for snack time at the Jetsons’ . It’s an image of cheerful pink cotton candy printed on a tiny sheet of edible paper that tastes like cotton candy. The paper measures roughly two-by-2.75-by-zero inches, so it won’t take up much space in the time capsule, and, as far as I can tell, it won’t suffer at all from rot or mold over the next hundred years. But none of this explains why this morsel ought to be preserved for future generations. The truly historic feature of Cantu’s two-dimensional treat is the legal notice printed beneath the cotton-candy image:
Confidential Property of and © H. Cantu. Patent Pending. No further use or disclosure is permitted without prior approval of H. Cantu.
Consider your typical transaction as a restaurant patron. You choose something from the menu, it’s brought to your table, you eat it, and, if it was prepared adequately, you pay for it. Under those circumstances, you’ d probably say that you had bought the food. But here is a chef claiming that he still owns the food you’ re swallowing. This is something new. Inarguably, Cantu’s gonzo innovations place him among the shock troops of American cuisine, but it’s possible that a more significant legacy will be his efforts to own the ideas that are born in his kitchen. He has already filed 12 applications for patents, including one detailing the process for making cotton-candy paper, and says there are more to come.
For all his originality, Cantu is not the only one who thinks that the ideas born in a restaurant should belong to the chef. There are at least two ways to claim legal protection for intellectual property. One is Cantu’s route, through patents, but another, copyrighting a dish, could have much more far-reaching effects on the culinary world. Chefs have traditionally worked on an open-source model, freely borrowing and expanding on each other’s ideas and, yes, sometimes even stealing them outright. But some influential people are now talking about changing the copyright law so that chefs own their recipes the same way composers own their songs. Under this plan, anyone who wanted to borrow someone else’s recipe would have to pay a licensing fee.