The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Poilane-Recipes-Secrecy

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Poilane-Recipes-Secrecy

I am wondering how a bakery like Poilane's manages to keep their recipes in confidence.  I know that the basic ingredients are known but I believe that the specifics are not.  Does anyone have experience with keeping recipes confidential when numerous employees have access to those recipes and techniques?

Jeff

arlo's picture
arlo

I had to sign an agreement that stated I would not use the recipes outside of work, or work with another bakery during the time of my employement at my past bakery. The outcome of doing so would result in the loss of my job and payment towards damages done to the companies reputation and so on. I am sure other bakeries use similar contracts and agreements.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Thanks for the reply Arlo.  What are you doing in the wake of the successful pastry test?

Jeff

arlo's picture
arlo

Oh just working away my youth ;)

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Great.......here's a word from Mark Twain on the subject,

"One of the very advantages of youth,  you don't own any stock in anything. You have a good time, and all the grief and trouble is with the other fellows."

Mark Twain

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

The only way to keep a recipe secret is to do everything yourself, then eat it yourself, but that's not a very good business model.

The truth is that this industry has been around for hundreds of years (thousands for bread) and there is nothing new, just variations on  a theme. Any pro worth his/her salt can come pretty close to replicating pretty much anything after a bite or two and some trial and error. That's what test kitchen are for.

Non-disclosure agreements might help casual replication, and make employees think twice about swiping a recipe book, but I doubt they would stand up in court since any "secret" recipe has probably been done a hundred times over the years and your "ownership" will be challenged. I'm not a lawyer, but if it does get challenged, you would probably have to divulge it in court and it would then become public. (Yes, different jurisdictions will have different rules)

LOL we have one "secret recipe" that is a modernization of a meat pie recipe I found handwritten in an old (circa 1865) cookbook I bought in a flea market for $2. I replaced the whale blubber (yuch!) and cariboo hind with butter/shortening mix and bison.

I do know of one guy who breaks his recipes into pieces and has a different employee do each piece. That will work if you hire morons, but hiring morons carries another set of problems. Of course, it would still do nothing to prevent a pro from tasting it and making his own version.

All that having been said, there's no reason to make things easy. We don't have recipe books. Everything is on our intranet and recipes are printed out according to production schedules and are password protected. Hard copies are destroyed after use. We haven't yet figured out how to make those flash things that they use in "Men in Black" to wipe out short term memory, though.

Cheers

 

gerhard's picture
gerhard

Talk to Coca Cola they apparently kept their recipe a secret for 100+ years.

Gerhard

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

I also think you are underestimating food scientists. I'm fairly certain they could formulate an exact match if they wanted to.  Any food scientists out there who would like to weigh in?

I assume that even Coke's recipe is secret only by tacit agreement. If it tastes just like Coke, people will buy Coke, so there's no incentive for competitors to replicate it.

Think about it. Can you replicate McDonald's "secret" sauce? (Thousand Island dressing with mayo and a touch of hot dog relish) How about KFC 's "secret" blend of 11 herbs and spices? (What, do they have a proprietary spice bush?)

Cheers

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Only people who are paranoid about their business would think it matters that the recipes are public knowledge.  Anyone who has experience in baking knows there are no secrets. If 5 people from various fields attempted the same recipe, we all know there would little similarity between them. The Coca Cola case is slightly different in that the formula is the flavor. They take steps to safe guard the mixture because, with the recipe, you could replicate the flavor. Not so with bread.

Recipes can not be copyrighted. At least that's my understanding. The book can be copyrighted but not the recipes. Red Lobsters cheesy garlic biscuits are a national treasure and it took me 6 Months to finally get them right. That's MY secret.

Eric

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Jeff,

I suspect there would be little difficulty replicating the Poilane process for anyone intent on trying to copy it as closely as possible.

However, I agree with Eric about the likelihood of success in replicating the product even closely, as being unlikely.

The reason is down to choice of materials.   Poilane has a direct relationship with the farmers who grow the wheat and the millers who mill it to flour.   They will be able to know exactly which field the grain comes from and who grew it, etc. etc.   The flour is milled to certain specifications, doubtless laid down by Lionel Poilane several years ago.   And no one will divulge those, and no growers will want to supply to anybody else.   Why?   Because no one would offer such great terms and incetives as Poilane does.

Any bread product is about 2 things.   Process and materials.   Process can be copied but only by going to a lot of expense and effort.   Yes, the basics of the ingredients are known...but try getting access to the exact same ingredients...no chance!

Best wishes

Andy

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Thanks Andy.

jcking's picture
jcking

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Jim

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

The reason recipes are not copyrightable in US copyright law is because they are facts.  Facts cannot be copyrighted, the words used to state the facts may be if thought unique enough by the courts.  If I take 600 grams of flour, 420 grams of water, 9 grams of yeast, and 12 grams of salt, mix them up in a bowl, manipulate the mixture a bit, and then apply heat, the result is bread.  This is a fact.  Facts are not copyrightable.

Here, straight from the horses mouth: "How do I protect my recipe?
A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Note that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records." (from http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html)

They also have a special page explaining recipes and copyright at http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.pdf

For how something like the Coca Cola formula is protected see "Understanding Intellectual Property Through Coca Cola" at http://zvulony.ca/2010/articles/intellectual-property-law/understanding-intellectual-property-law/

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Thanks for all of the replies,  I heard,  more or less,  just what I expected to hear.

Jeff