The heat generated by ChatGPT and other AI software has poured into the kitchen, or at least the kitchens on TikTok, where creator Michelle Meng aka @hashslingers has been comparing AI-generated recipes to those created by chefs. professionals, restaurant chains, food. brands, and the occasional celebrity. With more than a dozen videos posted so far, Meng’s ongoing experiment has included McDonald’s apple pie, Claire Saffitz’s focaccia bread, and Taylor Swift’s chai sugar cookies, each of which Meng has been compared to an AI-generated recipe for the same dish.
The project, which was inspired by Patrick Zeinali’s YouTube short “Robot Vs Human Bake Off,” was born earlier this year after Meng was fired from her job as a software engineer. Meng started @hashslingers in 2021 as a creative outlet (she also has a YouTube channel) and, after her firing, she decided to give herself a year to pursue her passions. We talked to her about winning and losing recipes, ChatGPT as a kitchen tool, and the AI debate.
Eater: What have you found so far? Do the real chefs tend to win at this, or the AI?
Michelle Meng: It really has been a shake up. For the most part, chefs, restaurants, and creators tend to win, but there hasn’t been an obvious pattern.
I have noticed that with dishes that require very technical skills, such as baking or using yeast, the AI works well, since it is edible. But the chefs usually take the wins because the AI instructions aren’t really fleshed out. Baking is very exact. In cultural dishes, like Uncle Roger’s fried rice or Golden Gully’s mango kulfi, the chef often wins because he better understands the background and flavor of the cuisine.
[But] AI does surprisingly well every time. It wins mainly against food chains and occasionally against other recipes, because it includes more complex ingredients.
What recipes have you noticed the AI does really well?
Mainly food chains. We’ve made Panda Express Orange Chicken and In-N-Out Animal Style Fries.
I think some of this has to do with cooking it at home and paying attention to the food, rather than just making food at a fast food chain. I try to keep that in mind when judging.
The only case where the AI actually won against the chef is with Gordon Ramsay’s scrambled eggs, which was truly amazing.
What do you think this means for recipe creation?
There has been a lot of debate about this in my comments. Similar to the conversation around AI-generated art, there is a notion that AI is taking chefs’ and food bloggers’ online recipes, which are their creative and intellectual property, and using them without proper credit. There is a discussion to be had there.
In general, with the rise of AI and machine learning, a lot of people are afraid that it will take over. But as someone who has studied and built this technology, it’s hard to assure people that it’s more of a tool and less of a replacement.
In my opinion, things like ChatGPT are a great kitchen tool. If I was a new chef or home cook wanting to learn more, ChatGPT is a one-stop source I can go to for a recipe and later ask for different tips or cooking techniques. It’s less effort than searching the internet for different recipes. But in terms of creating recipes, it’s hard to replicate the history, emotion, and human touch that are so important to food.
So do you think we should be worried about AI in the recipe space?
I’m not sure if I stand on one side or the other. AI is doing what humans do, but on a larger and faster scale. When humans look at content or search for recipes or even look at art, we consume that knowledge and it impacts what we do. If I’m researching recipes, I write down the instructions and ingredients, and make them my own. But it’s inspired by other content I’ve consumed before. Technically speaking, I don’t necessarily think the AI is infringing on intellectual property, but morally, I’m not sure.
Do you think the use of AI in the kitchen will become more popular? Have you seen other creators follow your example?
I’ve seen a couple of similar videos appear on my TikTok. I find it super interesting to see people try different chefs, recipes and techniques. It’s been a pretty popular thing on social media right now, and I hope people will actually give it a try.
I’m not sure if it’s just a fad of the times. ChatGPT and AI is quite a popular topic right now, so I hope it stays relevant and people find it a useful tool.
Have you noticed if the ChatGPT recipes are getting better as time goes by?
I found that all of the recipes actually work quite well and are sometimes quite tasty. I have never had one fail horribly. As the videos progress, I see the instructions getting more sophisticated in terms of describing the actual steps in the process, which would be very helpful for people who are going to be using ChatGPT as a kitchen tool.
What do you want to come out of the experiment? Is it something fun to do or do you hope it will make people think differently about how AI can be used in the kitchen?
A little of both. It was just a fun way to merge technology and cooking, which are my two passions.
The initial idea behind the experiment was whether AI could be a useful tool in the kitchen. I would like people to be more open to the idea of trying new technology, especially in the kitchen, as it is an area where tradition is a big part and things are usually done in a very specific and determined way.
Is your plan to continue doing this indefinitely and see how AI evolves with cooking? Or is there another goal?
I don’t have anything seriously planned right now, but I’d love to continue the series if people enjoy it and get something from it, and maybe evolve it in some way.
Ultimately, do you envision AI replacing humans in the kitchen?
I don’t think AI will replace humans in the kitchen. It’s just an interesting tool to try. And if it’s useful, that’s fine.
This interview has been edited and abridged for clarity.
Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton reports on the pace of business in the Denver Mail, and previously covered agricultural and trade policy for the Bloomberg government. She also writes for Eater, Smithsonian MagazineDelicious and more.