'Bon Appetit,' IBM Unveil Chef Watson

There are a lot of cooking apps out there, but how many of them are powered by an all-knowing supercomputer?

That’s the selling point for Bon Appetit’s new collaboration with IBM, called “Chef Watson,” which the partners describe as a “cognitive computing app” that helps aspiring epicures to expand their creativity in the kitchen.

Among other features, the Chef Watson app prompts chefs to try new, unexpected flavor combinations, based on Watson’s trained analysis of 10,000 recipes from Bon Appetit’s database.

The supercomputer also analyzed how ingredients are used in different dishes and across cooking styles, and combines this with the science of food chemistry, as well as human evaluations from the app’s beta users.

Bon Appetit and IBM have been testing the app over the last year, tweaking design based on user feedback to improve its interactive interface. Beta users included several thousand experienced home cooks.

For each ingredient, Chef Watson suggests three other ingredients that probably complement its flavor, along with dish ideas and ingredient amounts. The app may be especially helpful to people with dietary restrictions, by suggesting recipes that exclude specific ingredients and suggesting alternative ingredients or preparations to achieve the same effect.

Facing new competition from online rivals, Bon Appetit has been embracing digital media. Last month the iconic epicurean title unveiled a new partnership with Facebook as a publisher in its new food publishing vertical. Along with other publishers, Bon Appetit will contribute expert reviews of restaurants around the country.

On the broadcast side, Bon Appetit is lending its editorial expertise to a new reality TV competition on Bravo, “Best New Restaurant.” The show sets up 16 new restaurants from across the U.S. to compete against each other for the title of “Best New Restaurant,” advancing by completing a series of challenges that aim to assess each restaurant in its entirety.

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