At this point it looks like the non-fungible token, or NFT, trend is not going away. Despite NFTs being an ecological disaster that don’t even guarantee someone won’t just copy-paste whatever digital painting you bought and use it for themselves, people keep buying them, and artists keep finding new things to turn into NFTs. Recently, Martha Stewart began selling portraits of herself as NFTs, and Pizza Hut sold off digital images of pizza (?). And now, chef Rocco DiSpirito will be unleashing a “Custom Recipe NFT” on the world.
DiSpirito has been laying low for a while, but it makes sense he’d be the name attached to an NFT recipe. He became the first chef to use reality TV as a vehicle to stardom with his 2003-2004 show The Restaurant, and had been a regular personality on shows like Top Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games, and Dancing With The Stars. And despite becoming famous for his Italian-fusion cuisine, he recently pivoted toward wellness, with a Keto cookbook and a line of protein powders and nut breads. The man knows how to spot a trend.
The recipe will be unveiled (though not, apparently, for purchase) during the NFT festival NFT.NYC, along with the company Metaversal, which describes itself as “the first company to combine a venture studio and investment firm focused on NFTs.” The recipe will be “paired with The Fractals of Taste by Dustin Chan, a loopable 5-min video that complements the flavors and reflects colors referenced in DiSpirito’s first cookbook.”
While Metaversal is marketing this as the first “custom” NFT recipe, it’s not the first time a chef has gone into the NFT world. In July, Marcus Samuelsson auctioned off his Fried Yardbird recipe as an NFT, with proceeds going to the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant Relief Efforts. Of course, that recipe was already published in The Red Rooster Cookbook, and subsequently online, so people were probably paying more for the private dinner for two at Red Rooster. It also looks like the NFT Metaversal will be unveiling is one DiSpirito created this past April as part of an Oscar benefit for the Colon Cancer Foundation.
In a statement, Metaversal said, “Purchasing the NFT gave the owner (Metaversal) the rights to a unique, never before seen recipe created based on their preferences. Therefore, Rocco Dispirito created the recipe after the NFT was purchased.” It would not reveal details of the recipe, which will be prepared at the Metaversal launch party by Christine Lau, the head chef of Kimika.
It’s important to note that, legally, a recipe is very different from a work of art. While a great deal of work goes into developing and writing successful recipes, under copyright law they are considered more akin to instructions. In a 2015 case in which the defendants were accused of copyright infringement for using the plaintiff’s recipes for a catering menu, the court ruled “the list of ingredients is merely a factual statement, and as previously discussed, facts are not copyrightable. Furthermore, a recipe’s instructions, as functional directions, are statutorily excluded from copyright protection.” Recipes can be copyrighted if they are accompanied by “substantial literary expression,” such as detailed and flowery directions, or personal anecdotes to give context to the recipe.
“Ownership” is also slippery. “When you buy an NFT, you hold the right to claim ownership of the NFT itself and the right to exclude others from claiming ownership of the NFT. Beyond that, it will depend on whatever terms govern the NFT,” writes Frankfurt Kurnit on Lexology, and “unless the NFT includes a transfer of copyright in the underlying asset — which is not the case by default, then the author, not the NFT holder, owns the copyright.” Metaversal said that, by purchasing the NFT it is the owner of the IP to the recipe. However, it also clarified, “As with any NFT, someone could ‘right click save,’ but that person would not own the recipe, the IP, or the NFT. However, it is correct to say that the recipe itself will be open source in theory.”
NFT-defenders always say they are a boon for artists and creators, allowing everyone to see exactly where a work comes from and whose hands it has passed through, preventing anyone from ripping off something and claiming as their own. And the conversation around who owns and should be credited for recipes has become more urgent in the past few years, as more people have called for recipe developers to cite their sources and influences. But owning this recipe, or any recipe, would not make one the creator of it, nor would it prevent other people from cooking it without your knowledge or permission, if that’s even the goal, which would go against the entire spirit of the concept of “recipes” in the first place. So the question remains — why the fuck would you buy this?
The only answer, like with so much of what drives the internet, is “because I can, lol.” It’s an act of great irony and greed to get a digital deed to a digital recipe that costs over a hundred times what you might spend on a whole cookbook just to be able to say you did it. Or you’re just a real Rocco DiSpirito superfan. Godspeed either way.
Update: October 28, 2021: 12:05 p.m.: This piece has been updated throughout with a statement and clarifications from Metaversal.