Beame & Mencher premiers The Legal Smörgåsbord: All You Can Eat! at the James Beard Foundation!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beame & Mencher LLP, in association with, the James Beard Foundation, gave the food world a taste of its fresh new lecture series: Legal Smörgåsbord —a three course meal seminar on the law and business of culinary artistry. Chefs, restaurateurs, food designers, critics, bloggers, publishers, and other foodies gathered on a rainy, Monday morning in the former home of legendary American chef and food personality, James Beard, for a hefty serving of food-related legal and business topics. An impromptu tour of the house revealed that attendees were gathering not only in the famous chef’s former bedroom, but also in what has been called the “Carnegie Hall for debut chefs”—a place where exceptional five-course meals are regularly prepared and served to members of the James Beard Foundation, as well as master chefs, critics, and gastronomes from around the world.

The seminar portion of the event began at 10 a.m. with a quick overview of the food biz that primed the audience’s palates with a reminder that food and business pair well together. Vintage commercials of the “amazing” Ginsu knife, a montage of today’s famous faces in food entertainment (Bobby Flay, Alice Waters, Anthony Bourdain, and more recently, the Muppets), and covers of best-selling cookbooks and chef tell-alls reminded us that we already know more about the topic than we realize.

The legal insights were offered in a three-part, multimedia presentation: Appetizer, Main Course, and Dessert. To please the inner-child in us all, David Beame began with Dessert, which covered the more playful and glamorous side of the business—chef television appearances. This section included topics in contract negotiation (for television appearances and cooking demonstrations) as well as endorsement and sponsorship deals. This discussion catered to people who appear on television (as contestants, judges, or even hosts) and who are likely to encounter dense, legal contracts such as representation agreements and sponsorship agreements. The terms and significance of such agreements were broken down and digested in more detail while leaving plenty of room for indulgence in the areas of branding and publishing.

Next, the Appetizer section dished-out a few, mouthwatering pointers in the realm of food product development and branding. Here, Brian Mencher explained business strategies and formation (such as choosing between forming an LLC or corporation) as well as the importance of branding and obtaining a federal trademark. This portion of the seminar dipped into a company’s most important assets—its intellectual properties—and cracked open topics such as choosing, obtaining, and marketing a trademark, as well as the costs and key considerations associated with each part of the registration process.

Lastly, the Main Course addressed issues that come up with 21st century food writing—whether in the form of hardbound cookbooks or iPad applications—and sliced into the subjects of publishing deals (finding the right book publisher, navigating publishing contracts, considering self-publishing, understanding royalties and rights), working with literary agents (the role of an agent, agent contracts, commissions, option clauses), and copyright law (the bundle of rights a writer has to  reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or adapt the work).

Emphasis was placed on the fact that in the past year, digital publishing grew tremendously. The variety of publishing opportunities makes food writing more accessible than ever before; however, navigating the legal and business sides of both new and traditional media can whip up a mélange of questions and choices that would leave any writer feeling a little tossed. Thus, finding and developing a relationship with a lawyer (one with experience in business law) is key to creating and implementing your vision, setting up your business, protecting your brand, and fulfilling your long-term strategy for success.

The seminar concluded on this savory note: television and publishing deals are about more than just money—they are about finding the right deal for you, your business, and ultimately, those who will enjoy your product. As NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer once put it:

“Superior products and excellent service are no longer enough to distinguish your business. How you make your customers feel is what sets your business apart.”

Beame & Mencher LLP is delighted with its debut of the Legal Smörgåsbord and is already building up an appetite for the next seminar. The firm is especially grateful to the James Beard Foundation for hosting the premier of the Legal Smörgåsbord. The Foundation is a unique resource for the culinary community and shares the firm’s excitement and dedication to encouraging people about the possibilities of food. For more inquiries regarding arranging your own Legal Smörgåsbord, please contact Brian Mencher at brian@bmlawgroup.com.

Written by Courtney Byrne, Legal Intern

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