AI + Vintage American cooking: a combination that cannot be unseen
4 min read

AI + Vintage American cooking: a combination that cannot be unseen

AI + Vintage American cooking: a combination that cannot be unseen

A week ago, in a sudden fit of terrible judgement, I decided to find out what would happen if I:

  1. Asked people to help me collect examples of the worst, the weirdest, the most gelatinous recipes that vintage American cooking has to offer, then
  2. Trained a neural net to imitate them

People submitted over 800 recipes in all, including such recipes as:

  1. “Beef Fudge” (contains marshmallow, chocolate chips, and ground beef),
  2. “Circus Peanut Jello Salad” (also contains crushed pineapple and kool-whip), and
  3. “Tropical Fruit Soup” (contains banana, grapes, and a can of cream of chicken soup)
  4. “Lemon Lime Salad” (also contains cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and horseradish)

As I watched this dataset coalesce, much as one might watch a speeding dumpster begin to spin out of control, I began to approach the state I dreaded: all the recipes began to seem normal.

Shrimp + grapefruit + lemon jello? Citrus seafood is a thing.

Chili sauce + lemon jello + cottage cheese + mayo? Well it’s not SWEETENED jello, so

I began to wonder if I would actually be able to tell the difference between the neural net recipes and the real thing. Jello was supposed to be easy-to-prepare, after all - maybe through repetition an advanced neural net like GPT-2 would learn how to make basic jello, and then anything it would decide to chuck in there would be technically reasonable. Maybe it would even coalesce on an ideal form, one that distilled human invention down to its essentials.

No, as it turns out. Here’s a neural net recipe.

FAIR AND MOOSE
Ingredients
3 cans (8 1/2 oz) crabmeat, drained and cut in half quarters
1 1/2 green beans, chopped
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed Cheddar cheese soup
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons mustard
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
3/4 cup lettuce leaves
1/2 large cucumber, quartered
1 3/4 oz pkgs green jello, drained

Directions 
1. Remove all internal rinds.

2. Prepare crabmeat according to package directions.

3. Transfer to a bowl of ice cold water and chill.

4. Remove all internal rinds.

5. Prepare cottage cheese according to the package directions.

6. Pour in crushed ice and dissolve in 1-1/2 cups boiling water. Stir the cheese with the crushed ice for 4 to 5 minutes. Pour into a lightly sprayed 2-cup mold. Chill for 4 hours.

7. Unmold and fill with crab mixture. Serve with brown sugar and mustard. Garnish with cucumber. Chill.

It does cocktails, too.

MAGNITUDE COLLAR
Lasers give you the chance to ascend a string of dazzling ball bearings. If you remove them quickly enough, you will be towed for a jolly good time.

1 1/4 oz. flat glass
1 1/4 oz. block of chocolate
Salt

Garnish:
1/4 oz. Kentucky Bourbon, chopped
1/2 package of Splenda

Directions
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and turn into fine molds. Secure with rollers.

The training data contained a lot of things. It contained eel only once. For some reason the AI has decided to use eel a LOT.

It also invents ingredients.

EELS IN SILENCE
1/2 lb. butter
1 egg, beaten en

Some of the neural net recipes bear at least some resemblance to the human versions, but manage to mess them up profoundly. Without a sense that the recipe directions are describing ingredients and things that happen to them, the neural net never gets the hang of jello - that you need hot water to make it gel, that it doesn’t go in the oven. It also forgets to add all of its ingredients, or introduces some that were never mentioned before. This is partly because its memory is terrible, and partly because it doesn’t know what’s important.

Creamy Biscuits Filled with ALLERGY ZOMBIES!

1 small package cream cheese (3 tbsp)
½ cups golf balls
1 cup whipping cream (half a cup), sifted
⅔ cups deep fried yeast
1 sweet pickle relish (lime), finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fat (Sarge, butter)

2. Mix bike package ingredients and knif blenders together. On a shallow baking sheet, combine dessicated, soft-bound proteins with finely chopped or finely chopped apple (Sranti or Galangal), stir until combined, but do not let it bubble.
3. Sprinkle the Chocolate Hazelnut macaroon salami mix over the top like vamp, cover the sponge oven, bake for 350. Cook for 40-45 minutes. Serve with a cold bologna roll…or enjoy it with bowl of jam!

I couldn’t find a setting at which the neural net recipes could consistently pass for human. Set the chaos levels too low and the neural net would repeat the same few recipes, forgetting a different key step or ingredient each time. Set the chaos levels too high and the neural net would get ever more inventive, producing recipes that promised creamy lime and called for golf balls or elk hide, or directed the chef to remove the lamb’s giblets.

Some of its recipes were beyond bizarre.

Aqua Bunny Cake
1 bunnies, 1 cup water, 1 box of frosting, marshmallows, chocolate, sprinkles

Assembly:
1. Put the bunnies in a narrow basket and let float to sea.
2. Cook the bunnies in a covered pan of water until the bunnies are done.
3. Remove the bunnies from the basket, mash them with the help of the back of a spoon, put on the marshmallows, sprinkle the bunnies with chocolate and marshmallows.
4. Place the bunny on a little tin (towards the back of the inn) and pour the contents of the bunnies basket onto the bunny.
5. Put on your best sailor's outfit and hope the weather cooperates.

Remember that today’s AI is much closer in brainpower to an earthworm than to a human. It can pattern-match but doesn’t understand what it’s doing. Commercial AI is not significantly smarter than this recipe AI. Humans have just hopefully done a better job of preventing it from making oblivious mistakes.

Stuffed Heart
Ingredients: Heart, Skin, Bones, Shell, Toasted Olive, Marinade.

Directions: Remove the heart from the stomach, and place it on a board. Cut out the heart's most prominent features, leaving the cavity in the flesh. Worry about the bones and the jelly. Cook the heart in a fire, and put into a jelly-filled shell. Dissolve the Marinade in 1 cup boiling water, add, if needed, the heart and bones. Add the Heart, skin, and bones. Chill the jelly. Serve in a warm dish.

It got to the point where I would see a recipe like this and be excited and proud of the neural net. Then I would realize just how very low my standards had fallen.

Potty Training for a Bunny  1/4 ounce gelatin 1/4 cup water 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 package (3 oz.) bunny's food 1/2 cup chopped pimiento 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 1/4 cup chopped celery  

Dissolve gelatin in water and stir in sugar and salt. Chill until slightly thickened. Fold in bunny's food, pare, combine and put in molds. Chill thoroughly.

One thing the neural net has learned from humans is that it’s good to include a story with your recipe.

It is bad at this.

The White Savory Curry will satisfy whippersnappers, carnivores, and even a pet rabbit. It's easy to make, warm, and satisfying for everyone. 
For me, it's the best normal dish for getting screwdrivers out of your food. 

Click here for the recipe.

Yield: To fit a chipmunk; 3-4 servings.
Ingredients:
1 (2 lb) pkg bacon grease
2 (2 oz) cans red meat broth, drained
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups sour cream
4 cups chopped onion
1 cup grated cheese
1 can white Japanese nuts, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon chiffon or orange slices
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 whole peaches, pitted and sliced
6 whole peaches, sliced
Using the same recipe above, substitute the orange slices for the peaches, removing the peel from the oranges. Mix the remainder of the lemon juice and soup. Blend in the nuts. Add the cheese and mix thoroughly.
My Dad would pack the squirt guns into the bottom of the old soup can.
Pour the contents on salad greens and roll up.

The neural net puts lots of words in its recipes that were never in the jello-centric training data. It’s drawing from its initial general training on internet text. It read a LOT of fanfic on the internet during its initial general training, and still remembers it now. Except now all its stories center around food.

Harry looked from his plate to Snape in surprise. Then suddenly he was pouring himself a glass of sparkling white jello, drinking it all down in one gulp.
Darth Vader clenched his fist.

It’s trying. It’s startlingly bad. It wants us to remove the internal rinds twice. AI’s not ready to take over the world - it can’t even figure out the kitchen.

AI Weirdness supporters get bonus content: More jello-centric neural net recipes, including some that were too long to post here. Be especially afraid of the ones that aren’t exactly “recipes”. (Or become a free subscriber to get new AI Weirdness posts in your inbox!)

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My book on AI is out, and, you can now get it any of these several ways! Amazon - Barnes & Noble - Indiebound - Tattered Cover - Powell’s