British publisher pulls Singaporean cookbook by chef accused of plagiarism

Chef and author Elizabeth Haigh, her cookbook “Makan” inset. Original image: Chef Elizabeth Haigh / YouTube
Chef and author Elizabeth Haigh, her cookbook “Makan” inset. Original image: Chef Elizabeth Haigh / YouTube

Update: Epigram said it has removed “Makan” from its listings.

Just months after its release, a cookbook of Singaporean-inspired recipes has been pulled from the shelves after its author was accused of plagiarizing a similar book. 

Author Sharon Wee this morning thanked her fans and Bloomsbury Absolute, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing focused on food and drink titles, for withdrawing Makan, a similar work by chef and former Masterchef contestant Elizabeth Haigh.

“I have been touched by your support. Today […] would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. Being a Sunday, she would have cooked for her own birthday party!” she wrote this morning, Singapore time. 

The book was removed by local online bookseller Epigram but remained available via Amazon as of Monday. Bloomsbury Absolute confirmed to Coconuts that it pulled the book due to “rights issues” without elaborating further. 

The title was dropped days after Wee, who was born in Singapore and lives in New York, publicly accused Haigh of copying and paraphrasing sections from her book, Growing Up In A Nonya Kitchen, which was published nine years ago. 

“I was therefore 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,” Wee said in a statement.

Haigh was also born in Singapore and grew up in the United Kingdom. Makan was published in May. 

Haigh, who runs a Singaporean coffeeshop-inspired eatery in London’s Borough Market called Mei Mei, has not publicly responded to the allegations since they surfaced last week. In an Instagram post shared yesterday in conjunction with World Mental Health Day, she wrote: 

“It’s ok to prioritize yourself. It’s ok to ask for help, or talk (when you can).”

Attempts to reach her for comment were not successful.

Similar to Wee’s book, Haigh’s Makan also compiled of handed-down recipes and paid tribute to her mother. 

It contains passages which don’t pass the plagiarism smell test with readers.

Where Wee wrote “Ginger is thought to pukol angin (beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). Hence, post-natal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind.’”

Haigh’s version: “Ginger is thought to have healing properties – pukol angin (to beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). This is why postnatal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind’ …”

Another highlighted similarity called out by readers was a section on piecing together recipes. According to Wee’s book, she experienced challenges such as having to convert old ways of measuring and taking a trip to New York’s Chinatown to shop for ingredients. Haigh also mentioned the challenge of piecing together old recipes, including converting measurements and having to journey to Chinatown in search of ingredients: in her case, that of Central London.

The 33-year-old chef competed in the Masterchef cooking competition in 2011 before she cofounded modern British restaurant Pidgin, which obtained a Michelin star in 2017. In an interview with the food website Mob Kitchen, Haigh said she never thought that she would publish a cookbook. 

“It’s almost like a dream come true because I’ve always pestered my mum about writing down her recipes,” she said. 

A niche bookstore in California and another in New Zealand have announced they would pull Makan from shelves. 

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