London chef and former MasterChef star Elizabeth Haigh has had her debut cookbook withdrawn from circulation by publisher Bloomsbury Absolute following claims of plagiarism by another chef.
Haigh, who currently operates the much-hyped Mei Mei restaurant at Borough Market, released ‘Makan’ earlier this year. However, she now stands accused of lifting up to 15 recipes for the book from chef Sharon Wee’s 2012 title ‘Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen’ (published by Marshall Cavendish). In a statement posted to Instagram, Wee wrote that she 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."
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Upon being made aware of the alleged plagiarism, Wee contacted Bloomsbury Absolute directly and the publisher responded by withdrawing ‘Makan’ from circulation. Further details were revealed in an Instagram post by New Zealand cookbook store Cook The Books, who posted excerpts online from what they claim was an email sent by a staff member at Marshall Cavendish.
The email said: “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 went on to say that “to pass someone else’s recipes off as your own is one thing. To appropriate their personal memoir is unforgivable” and that “Haigh didn’t limit herself to lifting recipes. She also appropriated Wee’s personal memories, sometimes verbatim”.
A dish from Haigh's Mei Mei restaurant
The email also included side-by-side comparisons of the books, an example of which is listed below:
An excerpt from Wee’s 2012 book ‘Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen’
“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.”
An excerpt from Haigh’s 2021 book ‘Makan’
“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.”
Haigh has yet to publicly comment on the allegations, likely due to this now being a legal matter, but has removed all posts about the book from her social media.
Bloomsbury Absolute said in a statement to press: “This title has been withdrawn due to rights issues.”
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