For their feature on artificial intelligence, The Guardian Weekend commissioned Jay Brooks to photograph chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s head to head cook off with a robot.
To see how far artificial intelligence has progressed, the paper set up a series of tests where human experts were pitted against AI in the fields of translation, writing, painting and cooking to see if it could match human creativity.
In the cooking contest, Yotam Ottolenghi was faced with IBM’s chef Watson, a robot, (though we don’t think he’s the one in the pictures) and they were challenged to produce a dish from a random set on ingredients including chicken livers and tequila.
Writer Leo Benedictus gave his verdict on the results.
‘Well, I will say it isn’t horrible. Humans have served me worse. Although in truth the name that IBM’s Chef Watson gives this dish (“Chicken Liver Savoury Sauce”)is about as appetising as it deserves.
To be fair to Chef Watson, and to Guardian Weekend’s own chef-columnist Yotam Ottolenghi, I had set them quite a task. I asked for a dish based on four ingredients that seemed to belong nowhere near each other: chicken livers, Greek yoghurt, wasabi and tequila. They could add whatever else they liked, but those four had to be in the finished dish, which I would cook and eat.
Chef Watson didn’t hesitate, instantly giving me two pasta sauces. Ottolenghi was more circumspect. “When I got the challenge I thought, ‘This is not going to work,’” he tells me. I thought the same. Or at least I thought I would end up eating two dishes that managed to be OK despite their ingredients, rather than because of them. In fact – and you’ll think me a creep, but so what – Ottolenghi’s recipe was a revelation: liver and onion and a tequila reduction, served with an apple, radish, beetroot and chicory slaw, with a wasabi and yoghurt dressing. The dish may make little sense on paper, but I devoured a plateful feeling that every element belonged. (And vinaigrette thickened with yoghurt and wasabi instead of mustard: seriously, give it a try.) Ottolenghi tells me the recipe is just a whisker short of publishable.
The thing is, that dish took him and his team three days to perfect. They were able to taste and discuss flavours, textures, colours, temperatures, in a way that Watson can’t – although there have been“discussions” about adding a feedback mechanism in future, Chef Watson’s lead engineer, Florian Pinel, tells me. “A recipe is such a complex thing it’s difficult for me even to understand how a computer would approach it.”
Verdict: Watson hides the weirdness of the ingredients, but Ottolenghi makes them sing.’