In a recent column, I wrote about a Chicago restaurateur who leases his employees from an agency rather than directly hiring them himself. If the restaurateur wants to simplify his labor problems even further, I think I've got another innovation for him this week: a computer program that creates new recipes.
West Los Angeles psychologist Kathryn Welds alerted me to an article in the Dec. 16 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article tells of an an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Chicago (Chicago again? Now wait a minute here!) who has created a new program called "Chef," which can think up new dishes based on information about 10 paradigm recipes it already "knows." A sample recipe, for boiled Chinese-style dumplings stuffed with ginger-flavored ground duck meat, is offered by the Chronicle. It looks OK.
The professor in question, Kristian J. Hammond, stresses that he didn't create "Chef" as just a game. It functions, he says, as a test of the capacity of artificial-intelligence logic to solve problems by incorporating past experience into present situations, rather than by returning to basic principles with each problem. The program in effect extrapolates successful combinations of ingredients and techniques from recipes already proven to work well. Just in case it makes a mistake, though, another program "tests" the recipes and suggests possible corrections.
Could such a program, in truth, ever be of use to restaurants? I don't see why not. Large chain operations use computers for just about everything else these days, from regulating food costs and portion sizes to predicting new food trends and plotting possible responses to them. Anyway, I know a few chefs around Los Angeles who have been getting by with artificial intelligence for years.
TABLE TALK: The wines of the Jordan and Merlion Wineries are featured at a wine maker's dinner Monday night at Bistango, starting at 6:30 with a wine-tasting reception. The $65-per-person price tag includes tax and tip. . . . Guido's in West L.A. proposes a six-course Italian banquet with wines from Robert Pepi on Wednesday, again starting at 6:30 p.m. Tariff here is $55 a head. . . . Two dozen top California wineries team up with assorted chefs of note (among them GiGi Patout of Patout's in Westwood, Philippe Jeanty of Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley, and Michael Hutchings of Santa Barbara's Waterside Inn) and with several prominent seafood wholesalers for the sixth annual Sea Fare and Wine List Preview at the Olde Port Inn in Avila Beach, Feb. 2, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets for the event, which benefits the San Luis Obispo YMCA's handicapped children's program, are $75 each. Call (805) 595-2515 for more information. . . . And Bill Hufferd, chef at Rebecca's in Venice, teaches a four-session course in "The Contemporary Approach to Traditional Mexican Cuisine," at Rebecca's itself, on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning Feb. 5. The class is offered through UCLA Extension's Division of Culinary Arts, (213) 206-8120.
WHAT'S NEW: Visconti Ristorante & Bar is new in Santa Monica, on the site of the old Caffe Roma behind the Ivy at the Shore. Specialties of the Calabria region are featured. . . . Jean-Claude Sakoun, owner of Cafe Reni in Santa Monica and co-founder and ex-co-owner of Cafe Pierre in Manhattan Beach, has launched a new eatery in the latter community, M.B. Potter's Restaurant, Bar & Grill. . . . The Rex in Newport Beach is now open for Sunday brunch. . . . And it's anniversary time for the Pacific Dining Car, downtown (67 years); Aux Delices in Sherman Oaks (20 years) and Le Cellier in Santa Monica (18 years).
CARNEGIE AMPLIFICATION: In writing last week of the recent death of Leo Steiner, co-owner of New York's fabled Carnegie Deli, I gave the impression that the original New York location was the only Carnegie around. In fact, there are three branch offices of the place--in Secaucus and Atlantic City, N.J., and in Tysons Corner, Va. Steiner's partners in the Carnegie, Milton Parker and Fred Klein, remain in charge of all four locations.