Computing Applications

The Wonderful World of Cooking Interfaces

Judy Robertson

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Warning: Don’t read this post if you are hungry!


I have fallen down a rabbit hole into the fascinating world of cooking interfaces Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 –would you care to join me? I came across an article in the most recent issue of Computers in Entertainment entitled “The art and craft of making the Tortellino: playing with a digital gesture recognizer for preparing pasta culinary recipes.” How could I not read it? It’s about a system that encourages visitors to an exhibition to appreciate the culinary heritage of the city of Bologna, Italy, by learning how to make tortellino. Yum! Users watch a video of a character illustrating how to perform the steps of making the pasta dough and then try to mimic the hand gestures of each step. As the authors put it: “A video camera standing above records the movements the visitor performs to imitate the delivered instructions, while feeding them to a software module, which interprets them and checks for their culinary correctness.” Only in a computer science paper would you encounter the phrase “culinary correctness.” I would have thought that culinary correctness would normally be measured by a biological sensory/digestive analysis of the product rather than a computational analysis of the gestures used in the process. That is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Quibbles aside, it’s a really interesting use of Wii hardware and gesture recognition for culinary cultural heritage.

Of course, computer science educators have always liked to use cooking as a way to introduce the concept of algorithms. The Toque system extended this notion into a whole new cooking based programming language which children can use using the Wiimote as an input device.  The children instruct a virtual chef on the steps required to follow delicious recipes such as baked cheese and tomato sandwiches and hot chocolate. There is an interesting mapping between the physical gestures the children perform and the language: physical actions can be thought of as functions to which the children have to supply parameters by selecting objects or primitives. For example, if the user makes a cutting gesture, the virtual cook asks a series of question such as “What should I cut?”, “How many slices?”, “What should I cut with?” The user selects pictures on screen to represent the ingredient which should be sliced, or the implement which will be used to perform this action and enters integers to indicate quantities. The researchers found that their child design team found the cooking metaphor made programming more interesting, and that they enjoyed the pair programming aspect of making recipes together.


After reading these papers, I was moved to wonder whether other research groups were developing systems to support cooking. A quick search in the ACM Digital Library turned up 20 papers in the last 2 years, including a whole workshop on Multimedia for cooking and eating activities. Some of the research covers systems to support users with various disabilities such as visual or cognitive impairments in the kitchen. Others focus on providing support for healthy eating. My favourite was the inimitable Yaminable Yammy–I defy anyone to produce a wackier or tastier system.

The cool thing about Yaminable Yammy is that it doesn’t just mess around with virtual food. No, sir. The Yaminable Yammy is a physical cooking pot which can change the mixture of real spices which are poured into it using an arduino and a solenoid.  It comes with an iPhone app which instructs the Yaminable Yammy to dispense particular spices according to an emotional analysis of email messages sent to the user. The user will have decided in advance what the mapping of emotional words in emails to tastes should be.  The paper is a bit sketchy on the details, but as far as I can see there are different canisters in the spice container. You might fill up one canister with sugar and then specify that input emails containing the word “love” would result in this canister opening into the pot, and the accompanying photo from the email being displayed on the screen on top of the pot.  “What about culinary correctness ?” you might ask. Wouldn’t you just end up with something which tasted truly vile? The authors have thought of this: “As you add in more kinds of feelings to Yaminabe YAMMY, it will become a mixture of various tastes. Hence, it is more like an amusement than a meal, which provides fun, thrills and laughter to the users.” Apparently it is based on an established custom in Japan where  they “have “Yaminabe,” which literally means a hot pot in the dark. Yaminabe is a hot pot of unusual ingredients and color eaten in the dark with close friends.”

Enough of this techno-gastronomic porn. I  must return to the rather dull world of marking assignments. After a quick trip to the cafeteria.


Izumi Yagi, Yu Ebihara, Tamaki Inada, Yoshiki Tanaka, Maki Sugimoto, Masahiko Inami, Adrian D. Cheok, Naohito Okude, and Masahiko Inakage. 2009. Yaminabe YAMMY: an interactive cooking pot that uses feeling as spices. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Advances in Computer Enterntainment Technology (ACE ’09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 419-420. DOI=10.1145/1690388.1690479


M. Roccetti, G. Marfia, and M. Zanichelli. 2010. The art and craft of making the Tortellino: playing with a digital gesture recognizer for preparing pasta culinary recipes. Comput. Entertain. 8, 4, Article 28 (December 2010), 20 pages. DOI=10.1145/1921141.1921148

Sureyya Tarkan, Vibha Sazawal, Allison Druin, Evan Golub, Elizabeth M. Bonsignore, Greg Walsh, and Zeina Atrash. 2010. Toque: designing a cooking-based programming language for and with children. In Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2417-2426. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753692


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