Artificial intelligence is changing the world but lacks the heart and soul to create truly amazing food and should stay out of the kitchen, writes Megan Jane de Paulo.
PERHAPS YOUR FIRST thought is that as a recipe developer and writer myself, I would naturally be averse to developing technology that essentially replaces me. I’m not against AI recipe generation for that, but because at the most basic level, it’s spewing out inadequate recipes that are destined to fail. At its worst, it’s a growing industry based on intellectual theft robbing creators and developers of revenue, and creating dangerous recipes that can lead to poisoning or death.
Think I’m exaggerating? Last month in Aotearoa New Zealand, it was amusingly (yet alarmingly) reported about supermarket chain Pak'nSave's Savey Meal-Bot, based on ChatGPT, on which you can add ingredients and generate recipes, including among a number of gross horrors, chlorine gas.
Just to be clear, chlorine gas is a chemical weapon with devastating effects on the human body. Sure, you don’t have to enter dangerous chemicals into the bot, but the fact you can and get a result is, of course, the main issue. AI does not have the actual intelligence to recognise toxic ingredients and omit them.
This is also the issue in AI-generated books available for sale on Amazon regarding food, especially mushrooms. With misinformation and misleading author credits, readers can be misled to forage for toxic mushrooms, resulting in illness or death. It is now on book vendors such as Amazon to initiate a checking process for AI generation to inform buyers.
There’s not an army of robots in a room on typewriters creating content for AI to use. It scrapes information and regurgitates it. It steals this content from people who have thought, developed, tested and written these recipes. Ever posted your family’s secret recipe for Anzac bikkies online? These AI generators have stolen that.
Creating a recipe is quite a process. You first need to hit on a concept, sketch out and plan, create the elements, cook it, test, make alterations, test again, check measurements and techniques, test, then share with others to test, gather feedback, make adjustments and so on. A complex recipe can take weeks of development before it’s served to anyone. The initial concept is a creation of years of knowledge accumulation of ingredients, flavours and techniques, not a bunch of words bundled up, sorted and spewed out onto a screen.
Let’s look at some of the more popular AI recipe generators. Please don’t make these recipes, they are untested and incorrect. The BBC Good Food site has a good recipe that has been tested and highly rated by hundreds of people.
None of the recipes use guanciale, which is traditional. BBC uses pancetta which is more readily available. These both use generic “bacon”.
- 12 oz spaghetti
- 6 slices of bacon, diced
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
- Cook spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced bacon and cook until crispy and golden brown.
- In a bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan cheese, heavy cream, minced garlic, salt and black pepper until well combined.
- Reduce heat to low and quickly add cooked spaghetti to the skillet with the bacon, tossing to coat evenly in the bacon fat.
- Remove skillet from heat. Pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti and quickly stir until the heat from the pasta gently cooks the eggs, creating a creamy sauce.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately, while the pasta is still warm and creamy.
This is at the bottom underneath the recipe:
‘NOTE: This recipe is AI-generated and DishGen has not verified it for accuracy or safety. It may contain errors. Always use your best judgement when making AI-generated dishes.’
When the recipe has a disclaimer in bold, you've got to suspect that’s because really using this recipe isn’t a good idea.
The method tells you to cook the pasta first and just set it aside. You would be guaranteed to end up with a stuck-together clump of pasta. A sensible recipe would instruct you to cook the pasta during the sauce-making process, or to at least toss it with some butter or olive oil to help keep the noodles separate. Good luck with tossing a stuck-together pasta clump through the bacon fat.
Most importantly, the entire point of carbonara is to combine the starchy pasta water with the egg whites to create the sauce texture. If you drain the pasta cooking water down the sink, you cannot create the sauce.
Six slices of bacon will generate a lot of fat – and this may emulsify with the egg yolks – but the egg whites won’t create the proper texture. That’s probably why it states to add cream — it’s basically an egg-flavoured cream sauce.
Maybe a small point, but you should really be infusing the oil with the garlic and then removing it. Using minced garlic may give a bitter edge to the sauce, or at worst here it won’t be cooked enough so you end up with a raw garlic taste.
Couldn’t get it to work even with a simple search. Condemned to watching the spinning loading icon forever.
Assessment: FAIL (on all fronts)
You have to sign up with Google to test this. The interface is simple to the point that there is no real direction as to how to use it.
Pasta carbonara recipe
- 8 ounces uncooked pasta
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- 4 slices bacon
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and Parmesan cheese.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until it is crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add the garlic and olive oil and cook for one minute.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss to coat.
- Pour the egg and cheese mixture into the skillet and stir to combine.
- Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the egg mixture is creamy and the pasta is fully coated.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the bacon.
- Serve immediately with salt and pepper to taste.
Eight ounces of uncooked pasta is about 227 grams. This recipe doesn’t state how many people it should serve, but it’s recommended between 60-100 grams of uncooked pasta per person.
Again, it recommends precooking the pasta and discarding the water. So you’ll be left with a pasta clump and nothing to create the sauce with. This one doesn’t even suggest cream — so you are relying on eggs, some leftover fat and a tiny bit of oil only.
Now we have a big issue. There are no instructions as to what to do with the actual ingredients.
The bacon — do you cook whole? Dice? Cook then dice? Parmesan cheese — grated? Garlic — slices? Minced? Diced? It’s a mystery.
The most hilarious part of this recipe is adding the cheese and egg mix to the pan while it is on the heat. There will only be one possible result from this — scrambled eggs with pasta and cold bacon.
Even with vast development and improvement, AI will never be adequately able to create delicious food. It cannot smell or taste. It cannot feel how the flavours hit and seduce areas of your tongue, how the textures caress your mouth. It cannot feel the love within the food and it certainly cannot give it.
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