Chef versus Watson

the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the culinary world

In 2011 IBM launched its famous supercomputer Watson, an innovative, cognitive computing system. In other words, a system with access to huge amounts of data and that learns from relevant experiences. Watson can use its prodigious talents to manage care of cancer patients, understand the financial markets, help law enforcement solve cold cases and even providing music recommendations. Now, Watson is even helping seasoned chefs become more creative in the kitchen.

The collaboration would work like this; Watson would create a list of ingredients with rare ingredient combinations. The selected foods often seemed random at first glance, but would be anything but; rather, through a sweeping analysis of data pulled from academic articles, foodpairing algorithms, cookbooks and other sources, Watson would find combinations of ingredients which, it predicted, would taste good when combined, but that did not commonly appear together in recipes. The role of the chef would be adding the culinary skills to create a dish out of this list of ingredients, by deciding on which cooking techniques and amounts of the specific ingredients to use in this process.

Additionally, The Eatelier developed a research on what the impact of artificial intelligence like IBM’s Watson will be on the culinary world in relationship to personalized healthcare. We combined food-pairing technology and new scientific discoveries on the effect of certain ingredients on physical or mental health and developed an analogue algorithm, which connects the underlying links between ingredients, creating tasty & health-supporting combinations.

Furthermore, we predict that the upcoming advances in nano-cuisine, biochemistry and personalized health will mean that each dish, no matter how it is created, will be customized, personalized for one’s health and flavor preference. In this future, food has literally become medicine, designed with nutrients, ingredients and cooking techniques that support one’s health goals and nutritional needs.

To be able to reach the public and let them experiment with these new theories, The Eatelier in collaboration with RobotLove, developed a tastebar where guests can find their own preferred combination and have a taste of a possible future.

Q & A

1. What is Chef vs. Watson exactly?

Chef versus Watson is a tastebar where we serve hand-amuses that the algorithm came up with as a result of your input. So our bar works as following; on the ‘menu’ that is placed on a big display next to our bar, you can find an ingredient combination which you find attractive or which supports your health goal. Order at the bar with the number of your preferred combination and we serve you a taste of the future!

2. The combination of the ingredients in the different appetizers all work very well, even though some are unexpected. What are the combinations based on, exactly?

The combinations are based on the Food Pairing Theory that goes into the difference between taste and flavour; we only know five – or six- tastes, sweet, salt, bitter, sour, umami and fat, depending whom you ask. Flavour on the other hand, we know hundreds, possibly thousands, and these mainly are perceived by the nose. These components are called the aromatic compounds. And the interesting part of these compounds is that seemingly dissimilar ingredients can have these compounds in common, and therefore can be paired to each other. In a similar way as wine would be paired to a dish, ingredients can be paired to each other to enhance the overall flavour experience. We connected this technique to ingredients that are known to have certain health benefits and out of this came our algorithm for Chef versus Watson. Now our guest can chose something they need or something they like and we make sure that we combine these (healthy) ingredients into the optimal taste experience.

3. How did you come up with the placement of the appetizer on the customer’s hand?

The placing of food on the top of your hand is something that is done regularly in the professional kitchen. If chefs would like to taste a sauce, for example, they put a drop of it on that specific spot. It works since you don’t need any additional tools and since it is on top of your hand you have a spot where there is a minimum of distracting smells, yet it creates a close relationship with your food and specific focus on this tiny test-bite you are having. We wanted to mix that professional way of tasting with that intimate food connection.

Next to that, using your body as a plate connects you to the chef preparing your bite and it almost feels like the food is an accessory for you to wear, it goes through so many different layers of experience outside of the taste. For us, it is especially important to add a strong human component into your experience if you talk about AI developing your food combinations. After all, food is still a big factor in our way of connecting to other people, but also a source of human joy and a pleasurable sensorial experience.

4. You researched the influence that AI has on the culinary world. What do you think we’ll notice of that influence in the short term?

I think we already start to notice some forms of it. For one, the Food Pairing Theory is already applied on a large scale in the gastronomic world so it will only be a matter of time that these innovations will become more mainstream. Next to that, wearables that track your daily activity are already gaining popularity. There is already a high demand for personalized health, millennials are used to everything being on demand and personalized for them. And there is an enormous attention for food, enjoying it but also being aware of your health. So at this point it is a matter of connecting the dots.

In our view on the future of food, the consumer will start to regard food either as nurturing or dining foods. Nurturing foods will be foods that are customized, nutritious, cheap and readily available every day. To be monitored by our health-tracking wearables and made available through various delivery services and elaborate versions of high-tech vending machines. Dining foods will focus on the social aspect of dining, together with delivering multisensory experiences with more exclusive or more heavily taxes ingredients such as products high in sugar or fat.