The IBM Food Truck: Powered by the SoftLayer cloud

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Among the sea of booths and demos on the expo floor at IBM Pulse 2014, a culinary revolution is happening—and the cloud is its catalyst.

It’s called the Cognitive Kitchen, and the fruit of its labor, the IBM Food Truck, is delighting palates while hinting to a world of possibilities.

Chef James Briscione and his Institute of Culinary Education team are working with IBM to tap into cognitive computing, and in the process inventing some eyebrow-raising recipes. The flavor combinations are often bold and unprecedented.

Here’s how it works, according to IBM director of Cloud Services Marketing Tim Kounadis:

“This is the same DNA as IBM Watson. So what we have is basically a cognitive application that sits on top of SoftLayer’s bare metal, high powered infrastructure … It takes millions of recipes and millions of ingredients and if you tell it, ‘I’m looking for a German dumpling,’ it will actually create (a recipe) for you.”

Before you start to worry about droves of chefs put out of work, the human element isn’t completely lost. The application comes up with flavor combinations at the molecular level, Kounadis says, and the chefs have to decide which proportion of the ingredients to use.

“The reason cloud is important is that when you’re doing this kind of heavy computational applications, you really need the power of bare metal technology and the infrastructure that SoftLayer provides,” Kounadis says.

(Related: Three key advantages of using SoftLayer for cloud deployment)

Here are some of the recipes that made the cut during the conference:



IBM sees plenty of potential for cognitive computing beyond burritos, dumplings and apple pie. Kounadis says the big data problems the application is solving is the same type of workload you’d find in the insurance or financial service industries.

For his part, Briscione says that incorporating this type of technology is new for him, but it’s actually “inspired creativity.”

“Chefs love tradition,” he says. “Sometimes it was very challenging and very surprising to break away from that and put our faith in the system to inform us about the ingredient choices we make. It took some getting used to, but as we started working with the system, we realized that there was an incredible opportunity for us to express our personal style through the outputs that come through the system.”

Still skeptical? Briscione remembers one output that included green peas, sweet peppers, dill, pork belly and cottage cheese together in one dish. He was convinced it wouldn’t work.

“Eventually we came up with a pork belly moussaka that’s one of the best things I’ve ever tasted,” he says.

For IBM Pulse 2014 attendees, there’s still time to get a taste of cognitive computing’s raw (or cooked, as it were) ability. The IBM Food Truck will pop up next at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in March. You can follow its whereabouts on Twitter with the hashtag #IBMFoodTruck.

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