A New Zealand chef who was "just having a bit of fun" selling a popular food at a pop-up restaurant has been slammed with a five-page cease-and-desist letter from a famous New York chef who created the recipe.
Ben Barton, who finds the legal action "hilarious", said he and his business partner would have been lucky to have made a couple of hundred dollars each from selling the bao, or steamed buns.
"It kind of made our night. After spending hours making this really long-winded, fiddly recipe, we get phone calls and messages threatening us with legal action ... We saw the funny side of it," Mr Barton said.
After learning to cook in Auckland, Mr Barton had a spell overseas and while in New York he visited David Chang's Momofuku restaurant, which is renowned for its bao. In fact, the bao were so popular, Mr Chang included the recipe in one of his cook books.
When Mr Barton returned to New Zealand recently, he wanted to share the tasty bao with his countrymen.
This year, he and Andreas Eggmann have hosted more than 20 pop-up dining events ranging from a tapas night to "eat a pig nose to tail". One of their more popular evenings were the ones with bao on the menu.
"Once you try them, you can't stop craving them," Mr Barton said.
Last Tuesday, the pair were preparing 70 to 80 portions of the dish for the next night when the owner of D.O.C. Bar on Karangahape Rd, which was hosting the event, called them to say they'd been served papers by Mr Chang's Sydney-based lawyers.
"It seems like his lawyers just found an excuse to charge him more fees," Mr Barton said.
They quickly dropped Momofuku from their marketing and Facebook events but continued to serve the bao.
Mr Barton has also tried to get in touch with Mr Chang through Twitter, but is yet to hear back.
What the letter said
"David Chang has made a substantial investment in marketing, and promotion of, the MOMOFUKU brand around the world, including using the MOMOFUKU trade marks, and as a result has developed a substantial reputation around the world, including New Zealand."
"Your use of the MOMOFUKU trade mark, or Momofuku BAO, constitutes an infringement of our client's trade mark under the Trade Marks Act."
"If you do not provide the undertakings sought in the attached annexure, then our client will consider pursuing infringement proceedings against you without further notice, including seeking an urgent interlocutory injunction halting the MOMOFUKU BAO pop-up event."