The Fine Line Between Culinary Inspiration And Imitation | Vietcetera
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Oct 19, 2023
Food & DrinkRestaurants

The Fine Line Between Culinary Inspiration And Imitation

In his Facebook post, Chef Hoàng Tùng’s intent is not to harm a business but rather to emphasize the significance of business ethics in the culinary industry.
The Fine Line Between Culinary Inspiration And Imitation

Hoàng Tùng, executive chef and owner of Å by TUNG and T.U.N.G dining. | Source: Vietcetera

Editor’s Note: With permission from Hoàng Tùng, executive chef and owner of Å by TUNG and T.U.N.G dining, we are republishing this Op-Ed from his Facebook page. We feel compelled to re-share this content due to Vietnam’s rising food and beverage influence and standing in the world and how these sorts of trends impact Vietnam’s future in the global industry.

Chef Hoàng Tùng | Source: Vietcetera

Today, I feel the need to discuss a vital topic within our culinary community – ethical business practices. I hope this contributes positively to our industry. I’m writing this in response to a recent question from a friend who dined at a Saigon restaurant. They wondered if I had any connection to the place because of the striking similarities between their offerings and our culinary experiences.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received such inquiries; it’s been happening for the past two years. As I embark on this writing journey, I firmly believe that creativity in the culinary world draws inspiration from various sources, such as history, diverse cultures, fellow chefs’ wisdom, and the vast knowledge available online. Few can claim to be untouched by these influences, and I include myself in that group.

Certainly, chefs have the right to draw inspiration from their experiences, workplaces, and skills they’ve developed. It’s a way to contribute to the evolution of our craft. However, a line is crossed when someone replicates dishes entirely without adding their own touch or variations, solely for profit.

Let me share an example that has come to my attention involving a former cook of mine. For over two years, a restaurant has been operating, and many friends have asked if I’m connected to it. I remained calm, understanding that people move on to new challenges, and the cook wanted to prove himself to his new boss. But what I couldn’t have foreseen is the uncanny replication of our signature dishes without any meaningful changes.

In the images below, you’ll see the striking resemblance between the dishes, to the extent that even the Michelin Guide recognizes one of their signature dishes as my own – the Hokkaido scallop with apple sauce and brown butter hollandaise. Or, in another case, our signature Phở jelly dish.

(top) Chef Hoàng Tùng’s Hokkaido scallop with apple sauce and brown butter hollandaise.

I want to stress that I initially chose to be understanding and restrained when this situation arose with my former staff member. Considering our past working relationship, I made it clear that I had no intention of making a public outcry. I hoped he would realize the need for transformation and stop the complete replication of my dishes.

(top) Chef Hoàng Tùng’s Phở jelly dish.

I fully support individuals using the knowledge they’ve gained on their culinary journeys. However, I expect this knowledge to serve as a foundation for their own unique creations rather than exact copies of dishes. The ethical dilemma deepens when we see that sometimes these restaurants offer dishes that are almost identical to what we proudly serve at Å by TUNG. Many people have commented that these offerings closely resemble our culinary style, often describing them as an inferior imitation. This situation not only raises concerns about ethical business practices but also has the potential to harm the reputation and unique identity we’ve worked hard to build at Å by TUNG and T.U.N.G dining.

My intention in writing this is not to undermine their business – I lack the power to do so, and I genuinely believe their success will continue to grow. They have an attractive concept, an interesting location, and a welcoming atmosphere. My motivation is rooted in the belief that it’s my responsibility to raise awareness about business ethics because it can happen to anyone in our industry.

Chef Hoàng Tùng speaking at this year’s Food & Beverage Conference | Source: Vietcetera

Today’s young chefs contribute their skills and passion to various establishments for varying durations, and it’s common for them to move on to new opportunities. However, it’s disheartening to see some of them replicate dishes with such precision that they even fail to modify the presentation or ingredients. This behavior is not only unethical but also detrimental to our profession.