Former MasterChef contestant and Michelin star chef Elizabeth Haigh has had her debut cookbook withdrawn from circulation by publisher Bloomsbury in the wake of accusations of plagiarism by another chef. Sharon Wee, the author of Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen, a cookbook memoir published in 2012, has accused Ms Haigh of plagiarising recipes and personal anecdotes in her cookbook Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore. The allegations of plagiarism came as a shock to industry insiders and fans of Ms Haigh, the owner of London-based restaurant Mei Mei and a respected name in the industry.
According to BBC, Bloomsbury Absolute said that the book, released in May, this year, has been withdrawn “due to rights issues”. Sharon Wee, who is a chef based in New York, alleged that Makan contains at least 15 copied recipes and personal stories from her own book.
Following the withdrawal, Ms Wee shared a statement on Twitter: “I was distressed to discover that certain recipes and other content from my book had been copied or paraphrased without my consent in Makan by Elizabeth Haigh, and I immediately brought this matter to the attention of the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute.” Sharing the tweet, Ms Wee added, “I wrote my book in loving memory of my mother. I credit her and her peers for their anecdotes, recipes and cooking tips. This was their story…”
I wrote my book in loving memory of my mother. I credit her and her peers for their anecdotes, recipes and cooking tips. This was their story. Here is my statement. pic.twitter.com/yyQAndqmeJ
— Sharon Wee (@nonyaglobal) October 6, 2021
The issue first came to light when the New Zealand cookbook store Cook the Books received an email from a staff member at Marshall Cavendish, which published Sharon Wee’s book.
As per London Eater, the email alleged, “The most blatant case of cookbook plagiarism we’ve ever seen … Elizabeth Haigh, in her 2021 book ‘Makan’ published by Bloomsbury Absolute, lifted 15 or more recipes from Sharon Wee’s book, ‘Growing up in a Nonya Kitchen,’ published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) in 2012.”
The email even compared excerpts from the two books to point out the similarities. The two authors had a passage on how their mothers organised the kitchen.
Ms Wee wrote in her 2012 book: “My mother, like many of her friends, placed their most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy access while they cooked. That often meant a plastic tray . . . where there were small bottles of soy sauces, sesame oil, and jars of minced garlic, salt and sugar. In the past, there would also have been a metal container to hold recycled cooking oil.”
Ms Haigh wrote in her 2021 book: “My mother . . . kept her most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy reach of where she cooked. That often meant a plastic tray full of little jars of oils, crispy-fried shallots or garlic, crushed garlic, salt and sugar. There was also usually an old metal pot for recycled or discarded frying oil.”
Ms Haigh was a contestant on the MasterChef show in 2011. After having won a Michelin star at the London restaurant Pidgin, she opened Mei Mei restaurant in 2019 in London’s Borough Market.
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