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Cooking with AI

By Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, The Philippine STAR Published May 18, 2023 5:00 am

“So that’s your answer to everything—AI?” my daughter asked her Dad recently when we were discussing the latest in computer technology.

She may have a point there. AI is the abbreviation for Artificial Intelligence, which has been making inroads into nearly all facets of contemporary living. Considering what it has been able to do, AI may as well be its nom de guerre (combat name). Seemingly out of nowhere, AI appeared to wage a revolution on humankind, with its faster-than-lightning response to every command given to it.

And what commands these have been. Among other things, ChatGPT’s AI has been able to write a poem on economists (as requested by economist Romy Bernardo, schedule a travel itinerary in Japan, and play soccer—all within seconds or minutes after being asked.

At first I was skeptical. How can AI write a poem? Poetry needs not just a mind but also creativity, a heart, a soul, perhaps even angst. Can something as cold and technical as a chatbot really write poetry? Well, it can and it did. My skepticism quickly turned to awe when I read the first few lines. Just listen to this:

Economists, oh economists, what a funny bunch you are,

With your models and your theories, all so complex and bizarre.

You speak of demand and supply, of inflation and deflation,

And you think you have the answers, to the world's every nation.

You crunch the numbers, you analyze the data,

But do you ever stop and wonder, what it all means for the greater?

As you can see, not only can AI write in rhyme, it also has an understanding of what economists do.

As for soccer, in an episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes, they asked AI to play soccer. At first it didn’t know how to play the sport, but even without being programmed, AI soon learned not just to play but also how to create strategies for the game.

Wanting to join in the fun, I logged in to ChatGPT and asked AI to make me a recipe. I wanted to see if AI is as good with domestic chores as it is with poetry and sports.

The first thing I asked for was a recipe for adobo, specifically Filipino pork adobo. In the blink of an eye, the recipe appeared on my computer screen, complete with ingredients, measurements, and procedure. It even knew culinary language, with terms such as sauté (with the e properly accented) and specifics such as minced garlic and using peppercorns that must be the whole, black variety.

French chocolate mousse

Next I asked AI for a recipe for French chocolate mousse. Again AI answered faster than I could hit the space bar. The list of ingredients it gave was standard for chocolate mousse: finely chopped dark chocolate, heavy cream, unsalted butter and chocolate shavings. And the instructions, though slightly complex, were written in clear language.

Wanting to push AI further, I asked for a five-minute recipe for menudo. And this is where it showed its mettle. “I’m sorry,” AI said, “but traditional menudo is a Mexican dish that usually takes several hours to prepare.” AI then proceeded to give me a simplified version of said recipe as an alternative.

Hmm, so AI does have its limits. It’s not like Cinderella’s fairy godmother who can turn a pumpkin into a coach with the wave of a wand. More importantly AI knew what menudo is, and the ingredients and procedures needed to create an authentic one.

Likewise, when I asked AI for photos, it couldn’t comply. “I’m sorry,” it said, “as an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to send pictures. However, you can easily find pictures of Filipino pork adobo by doing a quick online search. I’m sure you’ll find many mouthwatering images to inspire you.” 

Well, at least AI realizes that it’s not human, that it’s only a language model, and that photography is beyond its capability as yet. 

Going back to the adobo recipe, I noticed how familiar everything looked—not just the use of vinegar, soy sauce and spices, but also the simplicity of the instructions. For all I know, it could well be one of the adobo recipes I myself may have written in one of my cookbooks.

Except for one difference. AI violated one basic tenet of recipe writing: that the ingredients must be listed in the order of usage. In the many years I’ve been a food writer, that’s one mistake I’ve always avoided—and it’s one mistake AI committed. In its list of ingredients, it listed cooking oil as number seven, whereas it should have been number one because it was to be used first. Maybe this means AI still needs more tweaking for it to be perfect.

But when AI does become perfect, will it eventually replace us all, or almost all humans on earth? Will AI one day become the new Adam? That’s a terrifying thought.

In the meantime, I gathered all the ingredients for pork adobo and began to test AI’s recipe. I found that I had to adjust the recipe a little—one tablespoon of cooking oil seemed too scanty for searing nearly a kilo of pork belly, for example. So I used three tablespoons instead. I also rearranged the listing of ingredients, to make it conform to the standard order of usage.

After about an hour, I had it—my first dish based on Artificial Intelligence. The pork turned out to be tender, but the sauce was rather on the salty side. Also, after being on the stove for so long, the sauce had been drastically reduced. What remained was mostly an oily residue from the pork fat.

For most people, adobo sauce is just as vital as the meat. It’s spooned on the rice to flavor it, or is assiduously mopped up with pan de sal. So if you want more sauce in this adobo, make some extra (using one-half cup vinegar, one-half cup soy sauce and one cup water, as in the recipe) and stir this into the pot after the adobo is cooked. Simmer for an extra five to 10 minutes.

All in all, I’d say there was nothing artificial about the dish created by Artificial Intelligence. It was real food! It was real adobo! It was what we had for dinner that evening.

Filipino Pork Adobo 

(This was the recipe given by AI, with the list of ingredients adjusted according to the order of usage. Other adjustments I made are in parenthesis or in the “author’s note.” The sauce tends to be on the salty side. For sauce with a more sour flavor, add one-fourth to one-third cup more vinegar, or according to taste.)

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil (author’s note: better to use 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 pounds (a little less than one kilo) pork belly, cut into one-inch cubes
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar (or more, according to taste)
  • 3 – 4 bay leaves
  • 1 cup water

In a large pot, heat the cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork belly and cook until browned on all sides.

Add the minced garlic and black peppercorns to the pot and sauté for one to two minutes until fragrant. (Author’s note: Push the pork to one side of the pot so there’s room in the pot for sautéing the garlic and peppercorns.)

Add the soy sauce, vinegar and bay leaves to the pot, and stir to combine.

Pour in the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.

Let the pork adobo simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, or until the pork is tender and fully cooked. (Author’s note: By now most of the sauce may have evaporated. If you want additional sauce, blend together one-half cup vinegar, one-half cup soy sauce and one cup water. Stir into the pot. Simmer for another five to 10 minutes.)

Remove the bay leaves and serve hot with steamed rice. Optional: You can also broil the pork adobo for five to 10 minutes after cooking to give it a slightly crispy texture. Enjoy!

(Author’s note: Serve with tomatoes, if desired. You can also serve this with pan de sal or any desired bread.)