Here’s a kitchen experiment with AI. The ingredients in my fridge one weeknight were as follows:
- A stub of mooli (white horseradish)
- A thick baton of cucumber
- A half-pack of celery
- Coriander and parsley
- A couple tomatoes
Yoghurt, milk, eggs and cheddar and feta cheese were available. Also to hand were onions, garlic and ginger. In the pantry, stood various jars of pasta, pulses and grains (bulgur, pearl barley, rice and that pseudo grain, quinoa). In the freezer, there were hazel nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as a few bags of beans (red and black-eyed), soaked and boiled by me some weeks previously. I also had multiple condiments – mustard, miso, tahini, harissa. The spice cupboard brimmed over.
Clearly, there was no shortage of material with which to cook a fine meal – healthy and delicious, with lots of different flavours. Left to myself, my menu would be simple. Bulgur with feta, herbs and nuts and seeds. Cucumber-mooli salad, garnished with a fistful of fresh herbs and a half-lemon squeezed over. I could saute some onion, garlic and ginger, add either red or black-eyed beans, salt, pepper, cumin and coriander powder and simmer them with some tomatoes. And if I really wanted it, it might be worth rustling up a paper thin omelette, which would be rolled up and cut into long yellow strips to sit on top of the warm bulgur.
But when I got AI involved, I got a very different (dog’s) dinner. Let’s Foodie, a site that employs artificial intelligence to generate recipes, suggested I make something it called “Mediterranean Bulgur Egg Scramble”.
The recipe it offered is below. What’s worth noting is it didn’t ask me to soak the bulgur in boiling water before cooking it with the other ingredients. And even though it was called a scramble, the recipe didn’t ask me to scramble the eggs, just to crack them into the vegetables and bulgur.
Jeremy Caplan, Director of Teaching & Learning @NewmarkJSchool, puts it very well in his newsletter:
“Tell the AI how many overripe avocados, bananas and pineapples you’ve got, along with other ingredients, and it’ll spin out a recipe for you. But as the NYTimes found out on Thanksgiving, AI doesn’t always yield yumminess”.
The NYT piece he mentions asked GPT-3, which is designed by OpenAI, before Thanksgiving to create a festive menu of original recipes. It did, but the recipes, the NYT said “provided few clues on what cooks should look or smell for during the process, and no reasoning for why ingredients were added in a particular order”. Janelle Shane, an optics research scientist who has years of experience with AI recipes, had already lowered expectations of how the recipes would taste. She said AI-generated food is “the recipe equivalent of hotel room art”.
And so it proved for the NYT, AI-generated Thanksgiving feast. The tasting panel gave it the thumbs down, with food writer Melissa Clark declaring “We’re not out of a job” and her colleague Genevieve Ko saying “There is no soul behind it (the food)”.
That’s somewhat how I feel about the Mediterranean Bulgur Egg Scramble.
Mediterranean Bulgur Egg Scramble
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 mooli, diced
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup bulgur
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
- Heat olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
- Add the mooli, cucumber, tomatoes, and bulgur to the pan and stir to combine.
- Sprinkle the oregano, salt, and pepper over the mixture and stir to combine.
- Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables and bulgur have softened.
- Make two wells in the mixture and crack the eggs into them.
- Reduce the heat to low and cover the skillet.
- Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked through.
- Sprinkle the feta cheese over the top and serve.