August 31st, 2015

By Stove, I Think He’s Got It: IBM’s Watson in the Kitchen

Posted in About Allison, New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Trends

IBM has been working on expanding the capabilities of its supercomputer, nicknamed Watson for some time now. One of the major innovation is the Cooking with Watson App that was released to the public last month. The app features the ability to input up to four ingredients and then Watson takes it from there. The app – IBM Chef Watson ( https://www.ibmchefwatson.com ) – was beta-tested by the Bon Appetit team, after their database of 10,000+ recipes were added to the Watson database.

One of the benefits of using Watson is that the supercomputer can analyze all recipes containing the requested ingredients (including quantities) and generate a brand new recipe based on its conclusions.

Perusing the created recipes shows a diverse range of flavors and food combinations. Once the recipe is generated, Watson makes any disclaimers up front about any ingredients it thinks will work well, but that it is unsure of the quantities. It asks for feedback on those parts of the recipe it is not sure are correct. For example, a tomato tart recipe notes that “Chef Watson is pretty sure that orange zest will taste good in this dish, but needs your help in figuring out the details”, hoping that the recipe crafter has insight that can help Watson make better procedural and flavor choices in the future.

IBM’s Watson is not only making inroads in recipe creation, it is also using its computing muscle to power Watson Explorer, an enterprise solution that allows a company to connect data points to make more informed decisions. By connecting the company’s internal data stores with the internet’s vast stores of data, the system allows companies to make informed decisions on a much reduced timeline.

But let’s get back to recipe creation! For this exercise, I perused my pantry and refrigerator for ingredients that I thought would be weird flavor combinations.

My first attempt uses tahini sauce, maple syrup, cucumber, and olives, and here is the outcome:

tahini

 

tahini 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recipe also notes the inspiration for the recipe as well, in this case Pineapple-Glazed Chicken with Jalapeno Salsa. This recipe seems a little strange in its combination of ingredients (such as cranberry and horseradish), and the availability of ingredients (such as blood orange and cranberry) should be driven towards a seasonal subcategory. The app also has the ability to modify a recipe based on style of cuisine. For example, if I select the style “Africa”, the recipe changes significantly with the addition of vegetable broth, sparkling wine, and balsamic vinegar. I have to admit this confused me, since none of these ingredients are African in origin.

Other options allow you to search by dish name, and in many instances this returned no result, which is most likely due to the varied nature of the ingredients I selected.

In all fairness to Watson, I tried it again, but this time I chose blackberry, sage, crème fraiche, and mustard as my ingredients. Here is what Watson came up with:

 

blackberry

 

What I found most interesting is that the recipe once generated allows you to change the dropdowns to explore alternative ingredients. For example, if you don’t have blackberries on hand, then you could substitute kaffir lime, lime, lemon, sweetened flake coconut, grapefruit, or red grapes.

Part of the R&D development process is often taking existing flavors and reimagining them into something new entirely and for this purpose this could be an easy way to play with flavor combinations. While this may seem feasible in the future, the robustness of the program only improves with more trials and the addition of a greater breadth of recipes.

At this time my overall impression is that this app will work well for the home cook and possibly in a professional restaurant setting where chefs are looking to branch out from current recipes. Where this technology would be beneficial to the R&D community would be its ability to interface within the parameters of the company’s needs. This would mean a robust interface that compiles the data within the company database and integrates it with internet based search parameters. This is the shape of future R&D development. Will you be ready when it happens?

 

August 4th, 2015

Keeping it Fresh: Emerging Restaurants That are Defining the Future of Health Food

Posted in About Allison, Healthy, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

As the general public continues to demand fresh, healthy, and economically feasible food with an environmentally sustainable outlook, investors are looking heavily into new chain concepts that fit the ever evolving needs of the consumer. As a result, there has been an influx of restaurant concepts that are tailored to the growing consumer desire for healthy food. Even at higher price points than typical fast food restaurants, consumers are willing to fork over the extra cash. In fact a full 88% of consumers, when polled, were willing to pay extra for healthier foods, according to a 2015 Nielsen poll.

So, with this in mind, let’s look at a few of the more interesting emerging and growing concepts you need to keep on your radar:

Wayback Burgers: the chain got its start in Newark, DE and from there has spread across the U.S. and Argentina, with now more than 100 locations. From their premium burgers and house made chips to their signature Cricket Shake, the chain is all about fresh cues and innovative menus. In either Oreo Mud Pie or Jerky flavors, the protein rich shakes boast 24 and 20 grams of protein respectively. The shake was actually voted on by consumers to remain on the menu after a very successful LTO offering. This is the first time we see cricket-inspired items on a mainstream menu, so this is an ingredient we need to start considering. While the chain markets itself more as a premium, hand-crafted concept as opposed to a ‘health food’ concept, per se, the addition of the cricket shake is one that is a sign that healthy protein alternatives are gaining acceptance. Not yet mainstream in the U.S., to be sure, but this is a big step in the niche of alternative proteins.

Sus Hi Eatstation: a rather new entry into the fast casual category, Sus Hi features all kinds of sushi, from the traditional Japanese fare to more approachable sushi preparations made with cooked chicken, bacon and other mainstream ingredients. These more mainstream friendly menu items are designed for the entry level sushi eater to ease the transition to raw fish sushi. The founder, Robert Ly, has dubbed himself Grand Master Fun Ly as a way to accent the chain’s focus on fun.

Roti Mediterranean Grill: a Chicago based Mediterranean concept with outposts in New York and Washington, D.C., the Roti Grill offers healthy, filling options for the consumer on the go. You can choose from a wrap, a salad or a rice plate. From there, you pick your protein (these include a salmon and a vegetarian falafel option), vegetables, sauces and sides. They also offer hummus served with house-baked pita.  A simple loyalty program where you snap your receipt for rewards gives incentive to cost-conscious consumers who appreciate coupon-based rewards. Considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, it is great to see Mediterranean food enter the spotlight.

Native Foods Café: started in 1994 by a vegan chef, the chain features scratch-made, fresh vegan and vegetarian food. Surprisingly, 85% of visitors fall into the omnivore category, further emphasizing the chain’s widespread appeal. Among the signature items that draw in the omnivores are the Reuben sandwich made with thinly sliced, house made seitan and the meatball sub made with seitan meatballs.

SweetGreen: founded in Washington, D.C., the chain is 31 stores strong and growing. Adhering to a strict set of sustainability practices and offering seasonal menus that rotate based on available produce, the chain has found resonance among the young and upcoming urban professionals in the communities it serves. The current late summer menu includes a watermelon and feta salad and a peach and goat cheese salad among its offerings. Signature dishes available year-round include the kale Caesar and a grain bowl made with quinoa and farro, called the Earth Bowl.

Salata: the Houston based salad concepts features 50 premium toppings as well as 10 house-made dressings, all complemented by your choice of protein. They are now 43 locations strong with projected growth for 10 more openings before the end of 2015. They also feature house made soups and signature teas and lemonades in flavors like plum cinnamon tea, tropical green tea and peach lemonade.

Kosofresh: an emerging chain in New York that features customizable bowls with Korean ingredients, including the highly popular Gochujang, Bulgogi, nori, and Korean radish among the ingredients offered. While they only have 1 location so far, the format and dedication to fresh ingredients with a Chipotle-esque ordering format makes this one concept to watch.

Mendocino Farms: based out of the Los Angeles, CA area, Mendocino Farms is a concept that sources local quality ingredients and combines them into imaginative sandwich combinations. One of the summer sandwiches is the K-Town Bulgogi Ribeye Roll. It features house marinated Bulgogi beef, a spicy Gochujang sauce, a rice vinaigrette slaw and chili aioli, all pressed on a Panini grill. They also feature the V7 (a seven vegetable patty made in house) and cashew feta sandwich called Molly’s Greek Vacation to capture the attention of the vegetarian/vegan demographic.

This list is far from complete, but it clearly illustrates the direction that healthy good-for-you concepts are taking. Be sure to pay extra attention over the coming year as these concepts continue to grow and attract a customer base committed to a healthy lifestyle full of flavor.