Aspen chef accused of trademark infringement
Call it a case of too many chefs certificates.
A longtime Aspen chef’s organization is being sued by the American Culinary Federation for copyright infringement, but owner Jimmy Nadell says he has his intellectual-property paperwork in place.
The Florida-based American Culinary Federation filed a federal lawsuit April 29 against Nadell’s Aspen Culinary Artistry Inc., which does business as the United States Chef Association.
The suit, which was introduced in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, accuses Nadell’s business of creating confusion in the marketplace through the chef certifications it issues.
Both businesses offer courses to aspiring chefs, some of whom have graduated from culinary school but seek the chef certifications to advance their career ambitions.
The American Culinary Federation was established in 1929, and, according to the lawsuit, has “more than 17,500 members in nearly 200 chapters worldwide.”
Such culinary credentials as Certified Executive Chef and Certified Master Chef are trademarked by the American Culinary Federation, meaning it has exclusive use to such titles, according to the suit.
But Nadell’s business also issues those same-named credentials to chefs that qualify, the suit says.
The American Culinary Federation’s suit says it has sent cease and desist notices to the United States Chef Association, which hasn’t complied.
Nadell, however, said he, too, has trademarked such terms as Certified Executive Sous Chef, Executive Chef and Master Chef.
“We have all of our trademarks registered, and we have all of our ducks in a row,” said Nadell, 57, a former executive chef at the Caribou Club, owner of Bravo Fine Catering in Aspen and author of “The Artistry of Culinary Arts,” which will be released June 1.
Nadell’s website says his clients have included Robert De Niro, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Shaun White and billionaire celebrity-turned-Republican-presidential-presumptive-nominee Donald Trump, along with a host of others. Nadell moved to Aspen in 1989.
“I’m a longtime chef here,” Nadell said. “I’ve survived as long as anyone.”
In December 2012 he launched the United States Chef Association, which now has 5,000 members, he said. Members, who pay $99.95 per year, can take online tests at an additional cost to earn certifications that can help them better position themselves for chef jobs, he said. They don’t qualify to take the tests until after one year of membership.
“You get a certificate for your wall, just like a diploma, and you also get a photo ID for your wallet,” Nadell said.
The lawsuit, however, is seeking a court-ordered injunction to stop Nadell from issuing the certificates. American Culinary Federation, the plaintiff, says it has credentialed 6,627 Certified Executive Chefs since 1975 through its certification program, which has generated close to $1.9 million in fees. It also has credentialed 66 Certified Master Chefs since 1981, the suit says.
“(American Culinary Federation) has suffered, and continues to suffer, damages and irreparable harm as a result of (United States Chef Association’s) infringement,” the suit says.
Nadell said the suit won’t cause him to change his business.
“You don’t like me, you can buy me out,” he said. “This is a multimillion-dollar institution, and I’m one guy, one chef here in Colorado that stirs up the soup.”
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