Friday, October 17, 2008

Bostonist: the sushi swiping scandal of '08?

This was an interesting story, and a nice distraction from the abysmal public dialogue around the presidential election, which may or may not erode my sanity before November 4. This Bostonist piece, which centered on Erin Murray's mysteriously-under-the-radar-but-totally-a-big-deal-IMHO article on O Ya's Tim Cushman, brought up several questions that are relevant in any discussion of food, creativity and business:

1) When checking out the competition, what's the difference between "doing research" and "spying"?

2) Are you obligated to identify yourself to your competitors?

3) What's the difference between being influenced or inspired by a food experience, and blatantly ripping off that food experience?

4) What's the difference between a white, affluent guy taking a recipe from another white, affluent guy, and a white, affluent guy taking a recipe from a culture to which he does not belong? (In this case, two American guys making big bucks off the Japanese art of sushi, and one who's also made big bucks off his Spanish and Mexican restaurants).

5) Did the author of this article deliberately break this out around Columbus Day, when I'm already poring over the traditional white-guilt issues of cultural appropriation? Or am I just as bizarrely paranoid as Tim Cushman?

These are of course rhetorical questions, and ones I did not raise in the post. I'll admit that I once spied on various guitar stores around town while doing "research" for my boyfriend (a session that consisted of his friends and I ducking around corners and generally acting as conspicuous as possible while doing our best "spy" impressions and tooling around in our "recon" vehicle, a rented compact Zipcar). And I revel in making dishes at home that I originally tried in a restaurant. But I think those things were harmless in comparison to what Tim Cushman did, regardless of his motives.

As for the latter two questions, I avoided them because I'm quite cautious regarding my knee-jerk desire to connect things back to either postmodern or postcolonial theory, simply for the sake of flaunting my liberal arts degree or reveling in my own probably unreasonable curmudgeonliness.

What I did ask was, did Tim Cushman blatantly steal ideas from Ken Oringer and Ting San? Because that seemed like the simplest and least arrogant way to go about things. Especially since the competition between these chefs is likely incredibly fierce and getting fiercer, seeing as the pool of customers willing and able to pay $150 for a plate of teeny pieces of blowtorched endangered tuna is likely shrinking by the minute these days.

(Photo credit: Boston Magazine, featuring Tim Cushman looking like he's ready to hunt down, kill and eat a great white shark right now. Or perhaps Ken Oringer?)


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