These days, there's a lot of pressure on chefs to think up the most fantastical, cutting-edge dishes. We live in an age of cronuts, and pecan pie .
Yet even the greatest of culinary masterminds are merely human, at the end of the day. And strokes of genius can be few and far between.
That's where IBM's supercomputer, Watson, comes in. Watson, you might remember, crushed it on Jeopardy! . Since then, researchers at IBM have teamed up with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. They've re-programmed Watson to serve as a sort of sous-chef that can spit out novel ingredient combinations and recipes on command.
The IBM researchers call it "creative computing." Chefs can specify a key ingredient and a cuisine, and IBM's computer program will come up with millions of ideas.
So far, the has generated dishes like Swiss-Thai asparagus quiche and Austrian chocolate burrito. IBM served both out of a food truck that it debuted at a Las Vegas tech conference last week. They may sound like strange flavor combinations, but human taste testers have deemed them delicious. The truck's next stop is Austin, where it will be serving up more of these unorthodox dishes at the South By Southwest music festival.
"The goal is to help chefs figure out combinations they would not have thought about," says , one of the IBM researchers behind the technology.
Chefs usually think about pairs of ingredients when pondering new tastes and combinations, Pinel tells The Salt. Occasionally, they'll think about three flavors that might work well together.
By contrast, "the computer can go through trillions and quadrillions of possibilities," Pinel says.
The chef starts by suggesting a main ingredient — say, lobster. The program then goes through its huge database of recipes and ingredient profiles, looking for other ingredients known to pair well with it in different global cuisines. The program evaluates the chemistry of the food and models human perception to try to predict which ingredient pairings will prove tasty and surprising. (One dish it came up with: a Cuban-style lobster bouillabaisse with squash.) This video explains how it all works in more detail: