How Watson works is you enter an ingredient, then Watson suggests other ingredients which might go well with it. When I played with it, I was getting kind of crazy recipes.
Watson suggested as my first recipe:
The directions were:
- Broil grapes coated with honey and shallots
- Add rice vinegar
- Add chives afterwards.
And for the first try, it tasted pretty good. It was kind of different, but not too crazy. For the second recipe:
The directions basically said to:
- Stir fry diced chicken thighs with:
- Diced turnips
- Sugar snap peas
Now this recipe tasted really weird. Like it wasn’t bad, nor good. It kind of got me wondering how Watson pairs their ingredients. From browsing their Watson Facebook page, one of the IBM Engineers stated:
In fact, we rely on the “flavor pairing hypothesis” mentioned in this paper, but aim for synergies rather than contrasts, which this paper refers to as the ‘western’ preference. It would be interesting to see if we could have a knob or slider that lets you decide what your preference is…. I’ll put that on a future back burner…
For me personally, I had two major problems with Watson.
- As the engineer stated, the flavor pairings were kind of odd to me. I personally prefer more of an Asian pairing which has more contrasts. For example, Vietnamese food is a balance of sweet, salty, and umami.
- The Watson website ingredient combinations were way too crazy. I really needed to pair down the additions.
However, I was still adamant in throwing a dinner party around Watson, and I really wanted to incorporate local and in season farmer’s markets fruits and vegetables. I then played around a lot with tangelos and saw
This was really intriguing because in salsas, you usually add some acid like lime or lemon juice. But adding a tangelo (which is a combination of a tangerine and grapefruit), added a really interesting mellow orange flavor to the salsa.
After playing around and experimenting for about a month, this is what I decided on the final Watson dinner party menu.
PEPPERMINT ALMONDS – Honey roasted almonds, salt, dried peppermint flakes
This item was a direct inspiration from a post from the Watson Facebook group. What I did is dry fresh peppermint leaves in the microwave, then pulsed it in a spice grinder. After roasting the almonds coated with honey, I added some salt and the peppermint flakes. As a friend stated at the party the flavor is really understated until you let the almond sit on your tongue where the peppermint and salt flavors hit you slowly.
CUCUMBER LEMONADE – 1 part juiced cucumber, 1 part water, .25 parts simple syrup, .10 parts lemon juice
Not a Watson inspired recipe, but this is something I picked up from the restaurant Ink in Beverly Hills. For any good drink, adding about 10% sweetness from a simple syrup works perfectly for it to be refreshing.
TANGELO SHRUB – 1 part freshly squeezed tangelos, .10 part apple cider vinegar
This also wasn’t Watson inspired, but shrubs are all the rage in restaurants in Los Angeles, so I wanted to include one. My advice is to use a really good apple cider vinegar.
GRAPE CHUTNEY – Broiled grapes with rice vinegar, mustard, shallots, honey, and chives
These were one of the few Watson recipes I kept intact without changing. The only problem is visually it looks really gross, but tastes wise it had a nice sour note to it. Most people at the dinner party enjoyed this to my surprise.
TOMATO TANGELO REDUCTION – A reduction of blended farmer’s markets tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and tangelo juice
What I did is blended tomatoes, and then added the shallots, garlic, and tangelo juice into a stock pot. I reduced it to about -70% leaving a nice thick mixture. The sauce was really nice because I could prepare it in advance and freeze it. The day before the dinner party, I put it in the fridge to thaw it. Similar to the salsa, the sauce had a subtle orange hint to it which was nice.
COCONUT GELATO AFFOGATO – Coconut gelato, mission olive oil, frozen peanut butter, cinnamon leaf, mulberries
Not a Watson recipe, but I just wanted to throw in some different flavor compositions into a dessert.
Overall what Watson has really done is pushed me out of my comfort zone to add pairings which don’t by instinct pair in my head. If you use the system, I suggest to add only one or two new ingredients to a base recipe to make sure the dish tastes familiar.
As for a computer being able to cook, I’d say at the current time, there still needs to be a lot of human intervention to synthesize what makes sense. Recipe development is a multi-sensory exercise that computers are getting better at, but not quite there yet.
I think my Watson experiments will end for now, but if they add flavor pairings via contrasts and balance for Asian flavors, I’ll be back.
And for those who are curious, below was the final menu.