AI-Designed Menu at Melbourne's Estelle Restaurant Raises Questions About Technology in Gastronomy

Published March 17, 2024

In Melbourne, chef Scott Pickett of Estelle restaurant is exploring new culinary frontiers with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Pickett, who is known for his innovative approach to cooking, openly acknowledges the potential of AI in the hospitality sector, yet he does not see it as a threat to traditional chef roles in the immediate future.

AI Steps into the Kitchen

At his Northcote establishment, Estelle, Pickett employed AI to fashion an exclusive four-course menu, allowing technology to take the reins without any chefs intervening. This inventive move was part of an event for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The AI, utilizing ChatGPT, was fed data from Estelle's 14-year history to generate not just the menu items, but also wine pairings and the event's schedule.

The results were intriguing, producing dishes like charred pumpkin croquettes with finger limes and kingfish tartare. However, Pickett noted a humorous glitch when the AI suggested a nonexistent 'Murray River red snapper,' showing that while AI can be imaginative, it is not infallible.

AI's Role in Restaurants

A recent report by the Burning Glass Institute and SHRM indicated that while generative AI might affect white-collar jobs significantly, the restaurant industry appears less vulnerable due to its labor-intensive nature. Pickett echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that manual labor like cooking will always require human hands. However, Toby Walsh, a professor of artificial intelligence, points out two limiting factors for AI in the dining industry: the economic challenge due to low wages in the sector and the difficulty in programming robots to perform tasks that humans find easy.

Despite these limitations, the systemization capabilities of AI for backend tasks like stock ordering, scheduling, and reservations are acknowledged. For instance, an Indian restaurant chain in London saw a 20% reduction in food waste after implementing AI for inventory management. Even so, Anthea Loucas Bosha of Food & Drink Victoria expresses reservations about AI's role in menu design, highlighting the importance of personal connection and vision in top-tier restaurants.

Chefs and AI: A Collaborative Future?

Pickett believes AI can serve as a valuable tool, helping chefs rediscover and refine forgotten recipes. While AI's sensory limitations may prevent the creation of entirely new dishes, it can contribute to the evolution and improvement of a chef’s existing repertoire. As the intersection of technology and culinary arts continues to develop, the conversation around AI in the kitchen becomes ever more pertinent.

AI, Gastronomy, Innovation