Thursday, July 9, 2015

Notes from a Chef Watson lab party

I recently read about Chef Watson, which is a website that that is the love child of IBM's Watson (the one that won at Jeopardy) and Bon Appetit Magazine. Basically, you put in ingredients and out comes crazy recipes, generates by Watson's artificial intelligence. Note: it doesn't give you existing recipes. No, it actually generates the recipe based on its silicon-based knowledge of what tastes good with what.

After reading this awesome review (Diner Cod Pizza?!?), I had to try it for myself. After doing a trial run with some deviled eggs (made with soy sauce, tahini, white miso, mayonnaise, onion–yum!), I somehow convinced everyone in the lab into holding a Chef Watson-inspired lab dish-to-pass. I thought it would be a good idea because it combines our love of food with our love of artificial intelligence. And here are the results:

Maggie: Appetizer Rhubarb Tartlets
Made with polenta, rhubarb, orange juice, boursin, tamarind paste, shallots, basil. I actually really like this one, although it was a bit tart.

Ally: Grapefruit potato salad
Didn't get the complete recipe details, but, umm, it had grapefruit and potato. I actually thought it was not too bad, considering I'm not a huge grapefruit fan.

Andrew: Bean... thingy
Made with kidney beans, pecorino romano, salami, tahini, pepper sauce, capers, chicken, green chiles, onions, mint syrup. This one totally rocked!  Consensus winner!

Paul: Crab soup
Hmm. Don't remember what all was in this, but there was some crab. And a bunch of other random stuff. This recipe was interesting. Very interesting. The crazy thing was how the flavors evolved in every bite. Started sort of like crab soup and ended with the taste of Indian food (to me). Did I mention interesting? It won the prize for most interesting.

Paul taking a sip:

"That was interesting!":

Sara: Banana Lime Macaroni and Cheese
Yep, that just about sums it up, ingredients-wise. This dish was fairly polarizing (sorry, didn't get a picture). I actually thought it was pretty good. Sara herself was somewhat less enthusiastic. Meanwhile, she was busy blowing bubbles for her son Jonah. Meanwhile, Jonah drank a bottle of bubble mixture.

Claire: Corn bread
All in all, this was really good, and relatively normal. Only "weird" thing was honey, which I thought added a nice sweetness, although Claire thought it was a bit much. This picture is great, as much for the food as for the highly sceptical look on Todd's face!

Lauren: Chips and Salsa
Non-Watson, hence less outlandish. But tasty!

Stefan: Sausages
Non-Watson, but homemade and delicious.

Me: Asian Sesame Oil Pasta Salad
Japanese noodles, tahini, mayo, thyme, sherry vinegar, peanut, green pepper, yellow pepper, broccoli, sweet onions, apple. Forgot to take a picture, but not bad. Perhaps a bit bland, but tasted good with some chili pepper oil.

Verdict: Overall, I think Chef Watson is great! It definitely suggests flavor combinations that you would likely never think of otherwise. I think one lesson was that you probably want to flip through a bunch of recipes until you come across one that sort of makes sense. The other lesson is that Watson isn't so great at getting proportions and cooking times right. You definitely have to use your own judgement or things could get ugly. Anyway, I for one welcome our robotic cooking overlords.

Update 7/11/2015: Some people strongly disagree with my sentiment that Chef Watson is great. I view it as glass half-full: Watson gives you interesting ingredients to use, but the first time you combine them you probably won't get the proportions right. But they are definitely combinations you would not have chosen otherwise. The glass half-empty version is that we already have tried and true recipes. Why mess with success? Well, I guess I'm just an optimist! Rhymes with futurist! :)

1 comment:

  1. Arjun, I'm glad I missed this party! The recipes you read to me seemed to have raisins in everything! It took me a while to become a good cook the old-fashioned way, and i'm sticking with it.