Australian MasterChef series 2 finalist, Alvin Quah – he of the funky white glasses and cropped ‘do – has been accused of plagiarising a recipe by Bee Yinn Low from Asian food blog, Rasa Malaysia, on his own blog, Cinnamon Pig.
Rasa Malaysia is the biggest independent Asian recipes site on the internet, receiving 2.5 million page views and 600,000+ visitors per month. Low’s first cookbook, Easy Chinese Recipes, has just been released worldwide and went to #1 on Amazon.com’s chinese cookbook category.
Two hours ago, On Monday 3rd October at approximately 10am Adelaide time, Low tweeted this from her @rasamalaysia Twitter account: @cinnamonalvin WOW u took my Black Sesame Dumplings recipe, copied it word-by-word w/ minor changes & made it on national TV with no credit?
Quah immediately tweeted back:
@rasamalaysia hey bee, is it a mistake? I promise it’s mine. No copying here. Mum use to make it for me.
But Low was not convinced it was a mistake, tweeting back:
This was shortly followed by:
Guilty as charged,
@cinnamonalvin has just blocked me.
And an hour later:
I’ve captured the screenshots of
@cinnamonalvin recipe in case he updates it. Plagiarism, no credit & on TV is not OK.
So what really happened here? Is it possible that Quah’s sesame dumplings recipe is just coincidentally similar to Low’s? Or did he really lift Low’s recipe, hoping no one would notice, and try to pass it off as his own? Compared side by side, the recipes do look similar, albeit with some omissions and minor changes.
I don’t know what really happened – only Quah does. But an accusation of plagiarism is a nasty brush to be tarred with and it will be interesting to see how this affects his future marketability as a chef/presenter.
This scandal also brings up a sensitive point for all food bloggers. Food bloggers are constantly inspired by each other’s work. We read (and drool) over each other’s blogs and recipes every day. We learn from each other. We share tips, advice and suggestions. We comment on each other’s posts and freely admit to using elements of each other’s recipes in our own cooking.
So what does one do when one’s recipe is heavily inspired by another’s? Like many food bloggers, I only post original recipes on my site. Where I have been inspired by someone else’s recipe I state it upfront, even linking to that person’s site when appropriate. It seems like the polite thing to do.
But in the light of the Quah/Low scandal, I wonder how many food bloggers do, ahem, borrow when inspiration fails? It would seem like a pointless and stupid thing to do, given how interconnected the food blogging community is, but I imagine it does occasionally happen.
Personally, I don’t mind other other sites reposting my recipes as long as there is a link back to The Hungry Australian so people can find me – it’s a nice way to make new friends. However, I would feel angry and yes, a little violated, if I thought someone took my recipe and tried to pass it off as their own. That’s just rude.
So I feel sorry for Low, who is no doubt feeling angry and violated right now. And I feel a little sorry for Quah, too. If he’s guilty of plagiarism, then the resulting scandal will be a sharp lesson in ethics for him. But if he’s innocent, then he’s in an extremely difficult position: how will he convince Low – and the world – that he didn’t do it?
Quah’s biography on the One Management talent management website contains the following paragraph: “At four years old, he remembers learning, under his Mothers (sic) watchful eye, how to shape and roll glutinous rice dumplings that would later be boiled in a ginger syrup.”
Low tweeted this
out four hours ago on Tuesday 4th October at approximately 4am Adelaide time: @cinnamonalvin updated his recipe but I’ve screen grabs. If he didn’t copy the recipe, why the need 2 change? That’s all I’m going to say.
On late Wednesday October 5th/early Thursday 6th October, a number of Australian media outlets including the Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser/Adelaide Now and The Herald Sun published an article on their websites about the Twitter exchange called Recipe wars of MasterChef raging on Twitter. In the article, Quah is quoted as saying that he was “confused and disappointed” by Low’s claim, and that the dish in question was a common Malaysian dish.
On Thursday 6th October, Low updated her introduction to her Black Sesame Dumplings (Tang Yan) recipe to include the following line:
This Black Sesame Dumpling (Tang Yuan) post was originally published on April 5, 2009 but it has caused quite a stir recently.
Clicking on the link above will take you to a screenshot of Quah’s recipe as it was originally posted.