The Future Of Cooking

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There will be no more cookbooks from chef Tyler Florence. Sure, you’ve welcomed him into your home through his books Tyler Florence Fresh and Dinner at My Place, and such Food Network shows as Tyler’s Ultimate. But he will not print any more recipes. Why bother?

“I’ll publish a cookbook and I’ll have 125 recipes. People only use five,” he said. And they won’t even follow them: “They’ll use those as like a guide that they’ll kind of interchange different ingredients with.”

All of this has led Florence to a conclusion that seems unusual for a person who has spent his career producing recipes. “Recipes are dead,” said Florence. “They’re dead the same way paper maps are dead.”

We have been writing recipes down for thousands of years. Yale University’s Babylonian Collection contains some of the world’s oldest, carved into three tablets from approximately 1700 B.C. “Instructions call for most of the food to be prepared with water and fats, and to simmer for a long time in a covered pot,” wrote the New York Times.

And recipes were similarly vague for the next few thousand years, because technique was something you learned from your mother. They’d call for “a piece of butter” or “more apples than onions,” but no quantities. Scientific precision entered the kitchen near the turn of the 20th century, introducing measurement, substitutions, calorie count and instruction.

The way we find and store recipes has evolved, too. Who among us hasn’t walked past a shelf of cookbooks while scrolling through Pinterest? But while the content on Epicurious or Allrecipes.com is easier to search, its recipes are still fixed entities. You can improvise, but you’re on your own.

Meanwhile, consumers have grown to expect customization. Consider Cava Mezze rice bowls or Sweetgreen salads or the vast array of poke toppings at other fast-casual restaurants. It’s a premise thoroughly embraced by millennials: Choose your protein, some vegetables, some sides, and some sauces or garnishes.

The Innit app can control some smart ovens.

That’s how Innit‘s eponymous app will work, too, but it’s more elaborate. First, you input some basic information – whether you’re allergic to shellfish or on the Paleo Diet. Then you pick a style of dish, like pasta or a grain bowl, select from an array of ingredients, and Innit will configure a recipe – er, some micro-cooking content – for you. It’s launching with a couple of broad templates – a few swipes will transform a chicken taco to a beet-pineapple salsa lettuce wrap, for example – with more to come. Florence’s flavor profiles keep the meals from becoming an episode of “Chopped.”

It’s about giving users “great combinations that are somewhat guardrailed,” said Joshua Sigel, Innit’s chief operating officer. “If they want to, we jokingly say, add Thai peanut sauce on top of a cupcake, that’s [their] prerogative.”

It might remind you of another experiment in futuristic recipes: IBM’s Chef Watson. The computer program analyzed thousands of recipes, as well as data on the chemical compounds in food, to create flavor combinations encouraged by “computer-assisted creativity,” said Florian Pinel, a master inventor and trained chef who worked on Watson.

Though Chef Watson was originally intended to aid professional chefs, plenty of customers were more interested in menu variety than dish creativity, Pinel said. “Something that’s different from the other nights, but not wildly different; something that fits your dietary constraints or helps reduce food waste.”

Pinel says the company is no longer updating Chef Watson – though it may explore some nutrition or smart kitchen projects with the program in the future. A consumer-facing site, in partnership with Bon Appétit, remains active.

Text Maura Judkis Photography Innit