It’s often said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. While that may be true, it’s still important to give credit to whomever you imitated. Otherwise, it’s just known as plain cheating.
Singapore-born Michelin-Star Chef Elizabeth Haigh is in hot water for allegedly stealing recipes from various sources. Not only did she freely lift years of hard work, she also apparently had the gall to publish them in her new cookbook “Makan”.
You may know Elizabeth Haigh from Uncle Roger’s YouTube videos as “Auntie Liz”. She once competed on “MasterChef” in 2011. Although she didn’t win, she continued her career in cooking and now runs Mei Mei, a kopitiam (coffeeshop) in London’s Borough Market. In May 2021, Elizabeth published her recipe book “Makan” which boasted “recipes from the heart of Singapore”.
Sharon Wee was the first to notice something was up when she was reading “Makan”. Sharon, a New York-based Singaporean chef, had also published her own cookbook in 2012, “Growing Up in a Nyonya Kitchen”. Her book contained recipes that belonged to her mother, personal anecdotes and interviews with her older relatives. However, as she read “Makan”, she realised the stories and recipes were actually hers.
The New-York based chef quickly wrote to Bloomsbury, “Makan’s” publisher to explain her concerns. According to Sharon, “certain recipes and other content from (her) book had been copied and paraphrased without (her) consent”. Singaporean poet Daryl Lim painstakingly combed through the books and put together examples he’d found. It was hard to deny her claims in the face of such proof. Thankfully, Bloomsbury responded to Sharon’s concerns and has since withdrawn “Makan” from circulation.
Sharon wasn’t the only one who’s work got plagiarised, however. Malaysian food blogger Low Bee Yinn also claimed she had recipes copied by the “Makan” author. The “Rasa Malaysia” blogger was only made aware of the matter when she received a curious comment on her ngo hiang (Penang lobak) recipe. “This is the exact same recipe from Elizabeth Haigh’s “Makan” cookbook,” the comment from Alice Lin read. “Even the steps are the same. Credits?”
Needless to say, Low was confused. After all, the recipe had been posted in 2010 after a Singaporean food blogger Danielle contributed to it. “Rasa Malaysia” had credited it to her and included the fact it belonged to Danielle’s mother. However, Elizabeth’s book had only been published this year. Low responded with a simple explanation of where the recipe had originated from but had mostly ignored the comment.
It wasn’t until Sharon Wee contacted Low that she realised what had happened. Two others made similar claims to Low’s story. One was from another Singaporean cookbook author, Christopher Tan. He stated that three recipes from his father’s “Terry Tan’s Straits Chinese Cookbook” (1981) appeared in Elizabeth’s “Makan”. Spice company Anthony The Spice Maker also alleged Elizabeth had taken recipes from two of their spice blends.
Although the book is only available on Amazon now, Bloomsbury has openly stated that it was withdrawn due to “rights’ issues”. Elizabeth herself has yet to issue a statement regarding the serious allegations. However, it should be noted she has deactivated Mei Mei (her restaurant)’s Instagram and made her Twitter private.
Many Singaporeans have expressed their disappointment and disgust. Like many others, we hope the Michelin-chef will address the allegations and clear the air soon.