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IBM's Watson takes on gourmet cuisine

At SXSW in Austin, IBM's Watson group showed how cognitive computing can help put together a gourmet meal unlike anyone has ever seen before.

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Daniel Terdiman

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Cognitive cocktail

AUSTIN, Tex.--IBM's Watson computer beat the world at Jeopardy. But can it cook?

That was the question on a lot of people's minds Thursday night as they made their way to a dinner being hosted by IBM Research. The chefs were highly-trained experts from New York's famed Institute for Culinary Education. The menu, though, had a very geeky twist: It was largely put together by IBM's cognitive computing system.

The deal was this: the chefs gave the Watson system basics about each dish: the region it should be from, the type of dish, and the main ingredient. Then Watson dug into ICE's proprietary database of more than 30,000 recipes and put together a totally unique set of ingredients. The chefs then formulated the recipes and cooked the meal.

All told, it was a two-year project that culminated in this dinner, and in a food truck that will be at South by Southwest this week, welcoming members of the public to come and create their own recipe using the system.

This is the so-called "cognitive cocktail," or the Ivorian Bourbon Punch. It contains vanilla, turmeric, bourbon, Triple Sec, banana, lemon, lemon juice, water, and honey.

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Welcome to cognitive cooking

The cognitive cooking experiment, which is meant to help IBM demonstrate the power of cognitive computing in a way that is easy for the public to understand, took two years to come to fruition.

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Menu

The menu for the evening. The dish's name (in red) conveys the three main elements that the chefs fed into the IBM cognitive computing system. The ingredients (in black) are what Watson gave back.

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Czech pork belly moussaka

This dish, Czech Pork belly Moussaka, contains pea, celery root, red bell pepper, parsley root, salt, black pepper, pepper, cheddar, Swiss cheese, dill, cottage cheese, milk, butter, pork belly, pastry flour, and egg.

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Kenyan Brussel sprouts

The second course, the Kenyan brussels sprouts, was made from Brussel sprouts, almonds, sweet potato, garlic, celery, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, parsley, and olive oil.

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Russian beet salad

The Russian beet salad contained beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, parsley, red wine vinegar, butter, white beans, cornichons, prunes, and black pepper.

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Italian roast duck 1

The two main chefs on the project decided to both try their hands at one of the dishes, the Italian roast duck.

This is ICE pastry chef Michael Laiskonis' version of the dish, which was made from mushroom, celery, black olive, tomato, sage, basil, fennel, ginger, salt, cinnamon, cherry, apple, olive oil, lard, white vinegar, wine, and duck.

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Italian roast duck 2

This is ICE chef James Briscione's take on the Italian roast duck dish, done with sausage instead of slices. The ingredients were the same.

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Ecuadorian Strawberry Dessert

For the dessert -- and final course -- the chefs made Ecuadorian Strawberry Dessert. They used strawberry, peach, papaya, coriander, cumin, confectioner's sugar, yogurt, heavy cream, dried apple, pectin, coconut, egg yolk, avocado oil, and flour.

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