MADRID -- Acouple in Madrid who believe good food is a fine art have begun paying royalties to chefs for recipes they copy in their small restaurant.

Arturo Pardos and his French wife Stephane Guerin started sending money orders to seven well-known French chefs last November as royalties for dishes they served in their humble restaurant on a grimy Spanish plaza.

Composers and authors receive copyrights and inventions are patented, yet no such system exists for recipes. The owners of "Arturo and Stephane's Gastrotheque" believe chefs' artistry should be rewarded too.

Their dream "gastrotheque" -- defined as a place where good food is seen as a fine art -- serves classic French cuisine. Pardos claims it is unique in Madrid, but admits sadly it is not doing well. "Some nights there are no customers at all," he said.

He blames this on its location in "a very bad part of town," where there are no offices, and where locals do not understand the aim of their gastrotheque, which offers dishes such as "chromatic canon of she-goat cheese and sugar beet."

Because the restaurant is doing badly, monthly royalties, which the owners calculate at 1.25 per cent of the menu price per dish sold, have been as low as $3 and rarely exceed $9.

Undaunted, the two sent even such small amounts to such famous and wealthy chefs as Paul Bocuse.

Pardos, 45, whose cheerful face is surrounded by thick black hair and a bushy beard, said he got the idea from a newspaper article where three French chefs complained that their dishes cropped up worldwide without any recognition.

The couple felt moved to do something about it. They wrote to the three chefs, along with four others picked at random, expressing their "great consternation given the morality we feel in our profession," and enclosing money orders for the relevant amounts.

Last month, Andre Daguin of the Hotel de France in Auch received $8 as royalties for the 82 portions of his "Breast of duck in vinegar sauce" sold in May -- similar to the amount he has been receiving every month since the first payment was sent.

Five other chefs wrote back declining any recompense.

Paul Bocuse from Collanges-au-Mont-d'Or returned their money for his "Cepe mushrooms a la Bordelaise," suggesting they save the money to cook him a paella -- the Spanish national dish -- when he next visits Madrid.

And Pierre Troisgros wrote from his hotel restaurant in Roanne admiring their honesty, but declining further payments for his "Hare in meadow dew." He distributed the money among staff.

Pardos and his 43-year-old wife plan to write to more chefs this autumn in an attempt to revive their idea, but meanwhile are concentrating on other projects.

The couple have launched an essay-writing competition on "why paella is never served at official or diplomatic dinners." Distinguished foreign visitors are always served French dishes, Pardos explained.

While awaiting entries, the philosophical Pardos is writing a book on "the different aspects of paella," which he describes as deep and "not easy to read."