Computer Cuisine

Coming this spring: Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, a cookbook produced by IBM’s supercomputer, Watson.

“Watson was fed data about foods traditionally enjoyed by humans. The computer was able to learn and find reason behind recipes, taste profiles and chemical compounds, so that it (he?) could suggest new flavour combinations. The resultant ingredient lists were converted to recipes by chefs at the US Institute of Culinary Education, and the publisher promises ‘unusual ingredient combinations that man alone might never imagine.'”

A Peek at Palestinian Cuisine

Laila El-Haddad describes the book she co-wrote with Maggie Schmitt, The Gaza Kitchen, which Cooking Up a Story calls “a wonderful collection of recipes and personal stories about the roughly 1.7 million people living in the Gaza Strip”:

“The really fantastic array of vegetables, seasonal vegetable stews often with tomato based gravies—that’s what you would be eating at home, as well as this variety of one-bowl meals that are prepared in Gaza. So they’re kind of stews that are thickened with sesame seed paste tahina and again a variety of ingredients like sour pomegranates and sometimes tamarind and poured into bowls, allowed to cool.”

Exacting Standards

Bee Wilson wonders whether cookbooks are too specific:

“I am fascinated by ‘unless otherwise specified’ sections in cookbooks. ‘All dishes serve four, all butter is unsalted…’ Like recipe writing in general, these proclamations stand between a military instruction manual and a philosophy of living. They do not necessarily correspond to real home cooking, where eggs vary and pepper is whatever we can rummage from the cupboard.”

Going Dormant

Modern Farmer magazine has suspended publication until at least summer, reports the New York Times:

“[The] quirky 100,000-circulation quarterly and website that tried to link effete urban farmers’ market culture with the practicalities of actual farming, became a magazine without an editorial staff on Friday, when its remaining paid editors walked out its doors.

“With editorial operations suspended, the future of what remains of the Modern Farmer brand is uncertain.”

In Plain English

Khushbu Shah writes about Toast, the brand-new British food journal:

“London-based writer and editor Miranda York turned to Kickstarter to fund her British culinary magazine and managed to raise over $36,000. Yahoo Food notes that no recipes or restaurant reviews are to be found in the annual magazine, just long-form essays about ‘all things both British and culinary.’

“York tells Yahoo that she chose to launch print over digital — even though its more costly — because she wanted to ‘create something timeless, something people would collect.'”

Between the Covers

Helen Rosner, the features editor at Eater, describes what she looks for in a cookbook:

“[A] story, a point of view, a thread that ties all the recipes together. Often that means a sense of time or place, a coherent gastronomic philosophy. I look for cookbooks that are excited to give me a framework in which to consider their recipes, some sense of history or geography or personality or technique. It doesn’t have to be high-minded or fancy, it just needs to be honest and coherent.”

Flavor Profile

In his new book, Tasty, John McQuaid explores the science of what we eat and why:

“Halfway through the book he asks a string of questions that are truly at the heart of his project, two of which are: ‘What makes any food tasty, and why? What biological purpose do such pleasures serve?’

“Answers to these questions prove elusive, but he does work to get at them from numerous angles. He suggests that food originally seemed tasty so that our ancestors would have something to strive for. He doesn’t buy into the idea that we evolved in response to distress and danger, but rather in response to wanting more of a good thing.”

Less Is More

Sam Sifton praises Cal Peternell’s new cookbook, Twelve Recipes:

“Rare is the cookbook that acknowledges the simple truth that there aren’t really all that many recipes in the world. There is just technique, and practice, and joy and love, and at the end of it something simple and delicious on the plate, something that the reader may not have considered making before cracking the spine of the book.”