Brava Home’s ovens were one of the cutting-edge kitchen appliances featured at the Smart Kitchen Summit held in Seattle on Tuesday and Wednesday. The ovens use light as an efficient, high-performing heating source. (Middleby Photo / Mark Janoff)

Scott Heimendinger, a culinary entrepreneur who helped lead some of Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine projects, has a request for today’s kitchen innovators: please, please don’t create a rolling pin powered with ChatGPT, artificial intelligence or other hot tech du jour.

“There’s a temptation that’s especially prevalent in our industry, but in others as well, that when new technologies become available to the world, we want to kind of slap those on what we’re doing,” he said. “We slapped WiFi on a bunch of things, but the world does not need a WiFi-enabled rolling pin.”

The use and potential pitfalls of AI in cooking innovation was a big focus at the Smart Kitchen Summit, a two-day event in Seattle that started Tuesday and continues today. The conference showcased new products for home cooks as well as commercial food prep.

Other event speakers on the first day included Nick Holzherr, founder of Whisk, an app for managing recipes and grocery shopping that was acquired by Samsung; Chris Young, a co-author of “Modernist Cuisine” and former scientist with Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures; and Lisa McManus, executive editor of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews.

Smart Kitchen Summit panel “Generative AI and Consumer Meal Journey,” from left: Wilson Rothman, moderator and Wall Street Journal reporter; Kevin Brown, CEO of Innit; James Briscione, Food Network chef who worked on IBM’s Chef Watson; and Shawn Stover, vice president of GE Appliances’ SmartHome Solutions. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler)

Panelists and presenters tackled societal and global food concerns, including curbing food waste and addressing poor nutrition and related health issues. They promoted new gadgets, such as a “macrowave” that’s coming soon from Revolution Cooking and combines properties of a microwave and an air fryer, and an oven from Brava Home that uses high powered light pulses to sear steaks and poach eggs.

And yes, plenty of the products included AI. It’s being used in apps that can craft recipes to meet specific dietary needs, to reduce costs, align with food preferences and that use ingredients on hand. The tech is also helping consumers create grocery lists and manage the food in their fridge before it goes bad.

Nick Holzherr, founder of Whisk, an AI-empowered recipe and shopping startup that was acquired by Samsung. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler)

But even those who are building products with AI and generative AI such as ChatGPT and similar tools acknowledge its shortcomings and risks. A study by Innit, a culinary platform using large language models, found that 16% of recipes created using AI contained at least one serious flaw, said CEO Kevin Brown.

So Innit is combining the AI with technology that essentially fact checks the results. If someone has an allergy and needs recipes that exclude corn, for example, Innit can provide suggestions that have been cross checked to ensure that no ingredients with any of corn’s 300 chemical names are included. One of the company’s customers is a diabetes organization, for whom they check recipes and product ingredients to make sure they meet strict dietary needs.

Holzherr, who now works for Samsung Food, and Shawn Stover, vice president of GE Appliances’ SmartHome Solutions, both shared information on AI-enabled kitchen appliances such as refrigerators and stoves that use cameras, apps and other devices to track grocery use to help with shopping and reducing waste.

In one of the more far-out applications of cooking tech, James Briscione, a chef and Food Network star, spoke about his experience working on an IBM project to train the Watson supercomputer how to create recipes. The Chef Watson effort included deconstructing ingredients into their essential flavors and aromatic compounds, which allows for more experimental recipes with unexpected ingredient combinations and personalization according to taste.

“There’s a really cool discoverability piece,” Briscione said.

Heimendinger, who last year founded Seattle Ultrasonics, a startup focused on home cooks, recalled World’s Fair and other future-focused videos from 1950s and ’60s featuring a home cook as “this sort of graceful ballerina doing this effortless thing in the kitchen about making dinner so easily.”

The challenges and goals highlighted then and now were the same, he said, namely deciding what to cook, getting the right ingredients, following a recipe, feeling empowered, and successfully finishing a recipe without too much hassle.

“Look at the actual problems that people face in the kitchen,” he said, “and try to address those problems with better product design.”

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