When chefs part ways, who gets custody of the recipes?

Antonio Muré has up and left Westside Italian restaurants Piccolo and La Botte, and he’s taken his recipes with him.

Chef Muré had been a partner not only in Santa Monica’s La Botte and Piccolo in Venice, but also Wilson in Culver City. Muré resigned from the partnership just before the new year and cut all ties when he left Piccolo in the summer. Then in August he opened Il Carpaccio in the Pacific Palisades.

“I was working 16, 18 hours a day, prepping for Piccolo and La Botte, delivering pasta to Wilson,” Muré says. “I had a nervous breakdown.”

In April 2004, Muré and his partner Stefano De Lorenzo opened Piccolo at the former 5 Dudley location in Venice. Muré was the chef, De Lorenzo the general manager. In November 2005, the two opened La Botte in Santa Monica, with Muré as the opening chef. The restaurant received two stars from Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. Then in June 2006, the pair partnered with chef Michael Wilson (a former chef at 5 Dudley and Piccolo) to open Wilson in Culver City.

The three restaurants not only were jointly owned, but also shared revolving chefs and staff, even a communal pasta chef. Muré shuttled between La Botte and Piccolo, and consulted on the menu at Wilson. But at the end of December, Muré resigned from the partnership, though he remained behind the stoves at Piccolo. Muré and De Lorenzo agreed to split the business, with Piccolo to go to Muré. But seven months later, at the end of July, Muré left Piccolo.

With a new partner, Muré opened Il Carpaccio. Some of the staff from his previous restaurants went with him. And he’s cooking many of the same dishes. Like the carpaccio di branzino that you’ll find at La Botte and Il Carpaccio, and the crudo di carciofi, a salad of thinly sliced artichokes, celery and shaved Parmesan that is currently on the menu at Piccolo, La Botte and Il Carpaccio.

Muré says he’d had enough of the partnership and so he walked away without a fight. “For what? I get a table, a case of wine, a spoon. It’s not worth it.”

De Lorenzo says Muré's resignation “was a little bit of a surprise. We tried really hard to convince him to stay.”

“He had some obligation,” De Lorenzo says of the contracts Muré had signed for each of the three restaurants, “but we let him out of that.”

So what about the recipes? Both men lay a claim to the dishes, both men put them on their menus -- and both also say it’s OK that the dishes are appearing simultaneously at the other’s restaurant.

“I’d love to see him change the dishes in the future, but it’s not my restaurant,” De Lorenzo says. “And why not? Most of them were Toni’s recipes anyway.”

“Sure, they’re the same ones,” says Muré of the dishes. “There was an agreement; it’s complicated. They’re my specialties, but it doesn’t really bother me. If they want to keep them, they should keep them.”

So who does own a chef’s recipes?

According to intellectual property attorney Kristine Lefebvre, a recipe can be protected under copyright if it’s more than just a list of ingredients, but, under the work-for-hire exemption, it’s usually considered the property of the restaurant if it’s created by an employee. However, as Muré points out, it’s complicated.

“It is really one of those gray areas,” Lefebvre says. “Is it protectable by copyright? Is it a trade secret of the restaurant? Is it other intellectual property that is covered in a confidentiality agreement between the chef and the restaurant? Or did the chef only license the recipes to the restaurant for so long as he/she was the chef? I wish there was a concrete answer, but there just is not.”

In the meantime, when there’s two great places in town to score carpaccio di branzino, it’s not the end of the world.


Small bites* Something different near Montrose: Bashan restaurant has opened in Glendale. Chef-owner Nadav Bashan was a sous chef at Providence in Hollywood and executive chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica. On the menu: sweet corn ravioli with shishito pepper and corn broth; heirloom tomato salad with burrata, pickled shallots and tomato water; or dry-aged prime New York steak with Maui onion puree, baby carrots, fingerling potatoes and plum tartare.

3459 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale; (818) 541-1532; bashan

* Frozen-yogurt verrines have hit Beverly Hills. Sno:LA has opened, offering seasonally changing flavors and a selection of four different verrines served in a clear cup (not plastic; rather, they’re made from corn). Sort of like parfaits. For example, the chocolate “cremita” layered with Swiss chocolate sauce, fresh raspberries and flaky wafers.

244 N. Beverly Drive, (310) 274-2435.

* Wolfgang Puck announced that he is opening Cut in Las Vegas, bringing the Beverly Hills steakhouse to the still-under-construction Palazzo Casino Resort in late December. Matthew Hurley, formerly corporate catering chef for the Las Vegas-based catering arm of Puck’s company, will be executive chef of the 160-seat restaurant and 60-seat bar and lounge.