What is ‘Cognitive cooking’ and IBM’s ‘Chef Watson’?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on the table for decades, but the legendary match with Deepmind’s AlphaGo vs. Sedol Lee in the first half of 2016 made the possibilities of AI clearer to the public and provided a good opportunity for ordinary people who are not interested in the latest technology to recognize AI’s progress and possibilities.

In fact, many know another artificial intelligence engine born before the AlphaGo: IBM’s Watson, which was based on natural language understanding. Watson made his name public by winning the American quiz show, Jeopardy, in 2011.

Actually, Watson has broadened its possibilities into many different areas, but what intrigued me was ‘Chef Watson’ which creates recipes using its AI engine. With the help of professional cooks and culinary experts of ICE, one of major culinary school based in New York and Bon Appetit, a famous American food magazine worked together. This is a service that uses 10,000 pieces of data, analyzes how different ingredients are combined in a recipe, and then creates a new recipe. Will Watson do as beautiful a job as Sherlock’s assistant?

Florian Pinel, lead engineer of IBM’s Chef Watson, shared his vision on Chef Watson and how it can be used to reduce food waste around the world by providing more healthy, tasty recipes using its cognitive engine. Chef Watson has been open to the public since 2015.

Let’s see if Chef Watson can create a smarter recipe as stated in the engineer’s explanation.

To begin using it, go to the following address:


The first screen motivated me to enter the ingredients in the fridge that I want to get rid of.
I live alone, but the nearest supermarket only sells onions in a bundle of six. I’m afraid that I could see a bud on the onions, so I listed “onion” in the first input area. Then Mr. Watson recommended an amazing recipe.

Hey, Watson .. can you tell me who has caviar and coriander in the refrigerator?
Watson thinks that if I open the refrigerator, truffles and caviar come pouring out like it’s G-Dragon’s (You know, the famous K-pop star. His refrigerator was once opened on the cooking show). So I removed the caviar from the ingredients list.

Oh, I have kidney beans and mushrooms. I just need to buy a mango.
Each time you select an ingredient, you will be provided with a description of that ingredient. You can also remove it if you don’t like the suggestion. You can choose an alternative ingredient that Watson recommends. The UX to assist users starts creating recipes by input from whatever ingredients come to their mind. It is quite intuitive, and the spinning animation — as if a smart think tank is working so hard whenever I input different ingredient —  is quite addictive. I like watching cooking shows on TV, and trawling for novel recipes on the internet, and this was a really fun toy that I can play with for hours.

This recipe is based on one of Bon Appetite’s original recipes. Mango, yuzu juice, onion soup with chrysanthemums…whoa. Seems like quite creative output, even for westerners, and I’ve been looking through famous chef’s recipes or cooking magazines for years but this combination is so new. If any of the ingredients listed here are not in the refrigerator, Watson will recommend alternatives. The Chef Watson team said that they are making this service available not only to professional chefs who want to get creative recipe ideas, but also to the constrained home cooks who want to try new recipes using ingredients at home. By using this service, I must say it will help to reduce food waste in my home but I’m wondering how the recipe will taste.


I will try the recipes recommended by Chef Watson and I name this project the “Chef Watson Project.” I am interested in the latest technology because most of my career is rooted in the IT industry, and I confess that I’m a serious foodie. I’m not only interested in tasting delicious and trendy dishes but also making some at home. I can’t help wandering around the supermarket whenever I travel to another country. My refrigerator is full of foreign condiments and spices. But mostly, I wondered if Chef Watson is really smart enough to recommend a real recipe. I thought this experiment will broaden my experiences and connect me to the new world that combines artificial intelligence, cooking, and the future of food.

Let’s get started!


For those whom it may concern, I’m not related to IBM or Chef Watson. It is my personal interest to test how artificial intelligence decodes the way chefs create recipes and I want to see if this service can be offered to everyone in the near future.


4 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s