A cookbook comprised entirely of recipes created by an alogrithmic generator, Edible Algorithms raises some intriguing questions: What is the nature of cuisine? How does ingredient selection and recipe naming influence perception of taste? What exactly is a "bread rectangle", and why should it be sauteed?
Edible Algorithms was a project for Golan Levin's Spring 2012 course Interactive Art and Computational Design. We were asked to generate form or simulate nature algorithmically. I thought about the ways that I create form in my daily life, most specifically about my love of cooking and fine cuisine. On a suggestion from Golan, I began playing with Markov Chain based text synthesis to create synthesized recipes.
Markov Chains are a statistical modeling processes that use a sample text to generate new phrases. For example, let's use a sample text of:
- The Blue Ball Bounces
- The Blue Horse
- The Blue Ball
Given "The Blue" as a seed phrase, Markov synthesis will select "Ball" as the next word two-thirds of the time. This randomness results in phrases that at first glance appear to make sense, but the beginning of a sentence will often have no relation to the end.
For the sample text of Edible Algorithms, I used three seminal American cookbooks:
Joy of Cooking – Irma Rombauer
Mastery of French Cooking – Julia Child
The Silver Palate – Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins
I used some regex to clean out page numbers, chapter titles etc, then manually edited out things like ingredient lists and notes. I played around with n-gram size (final setting: 3) and with seed phrase (final seed “Beat a tablespoon”) to generate my project.
Out of that, I produced a 10 recipe cookbook of selected generations, presented unedited from their algorithmic output, each with a title added.
In the end, the cookbook teaches us the value of interpretation and the impact of assigning labels. The titles of each recipe were create through a careful reading of ingredients and cooking methods (as well as a healthy sense of whimsy). The recipes often work out in strange and unexpected ways. For example, in the recipe below, an early command to beat herbs into eggs comes back when we combine the mixture with cream and create a quiche-like entree.
A sample generated recipe is below, followed by the steps I took to turn it into actual food.
Sole Fishburgers served with Pureed Mushrooms and Quiche:
Beat a tablespoon of minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon into the eggs after they have been boiled makes a wholesome drink when cold, or a nourishing basis for a vegetable soup. To make a nice sweet in a few minutes. Take out the mushrooms, drain them, sprinkle them with grated cheesefor preference with Gruyere. On half the number of rounds place a bit of it in a mixing bowl until blended, then beat in the boiJjng liquid, pepper, and salt to taste. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Beat egg yolk and cream in a small bowl cheese. Bake for twenty minutes. Put on some water to boil. Take your lettuce, and choose the round kind, and wash it well. Take out neatly with your fingers the center leaves, and fill up with hot chopped mushrooms, that have been soaked and stewed to a puree. If you use an electric blender z1/2 lbs. sole or flounder fi• Poach the fish filets in any of the following sauces are made separately. After the hamburgers have been sauteed and removed from the shells before the dish is now ready for filling, as directed in preceding paragraph 6 quarts rapidly boiling water for 4 to 6 hours, or until the flesh is tender when pierced with a toothpick. Bouchees, GaZettes, Baguettes
“Beat a tablespoon of minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon into the eggs after they have been boiled…”
“Take out the mushrooms, drain them, sprinkle them with grated cheesefor preference with Gruyere.”
“Take your lettuce, and choose the round kind, and wash it well…”
“…fill up with hot chopped mushrooms, that have been soaked and stewed to a puree”
“Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Beat egg yolk and cream in a small bowl cheese. Bake for twenty minutes.”
“z1/2 lbs. sole or flounder fi• Poach the fish filets in any of the following sauces are made separately.”
“Poach the fish filets in any of the following sauces are made separately. After the hamburgers have been sauteed”
“the dish is now ready for filling, as directed in preceding paragraph”
Conclusions and Further Inquiry
I started this project out getting ready to make some horrifying things. Fortunately/Unfortunately, the food generated looked pretty good. At first, I was convinced it was a problem. Now, I just think it just means that my hypothesis about cuisine not being able to come from a generator was wrong. What’s interesting to me is that I used all cookbooks that are of “high” quality as source text. It would be intriguing to repeat using some more everyday cookbooks.
I’d like to cook all or most of the recipes and add some more photos. I also think it would be interesting to hand off some recipes to other food-oriented souls to see how they interpret them.