As a boy growing up in the 1970s, my mother was the family cook, turning out evergreen Aussie favourites such as shepherd's pie, lamb chops, and apple pie and custard. If I was lucky, an after-school favourite was the tea cake with a liberal spread of fresh butter.
By todays’ standards her cooking now seems plain (don’t tell her I said that), but there was a beauty in the simplicity. Many of her ingredients were gathered from our own backyard, nearly everything was made from scratch and other ingredients were purchased locally.
Today, our meals could not be more different. They are more diverse than ever, influenced by aisles of inexpensive ingredients, a platter of cultures and a resurgent interest in food.
Food has become a national passion. As Aussies we love to make it, read about it and talk about it, and we are now surrounded by more of it than ever before. The problem with being faced with so much choice, is are we making the rights choices. The short answer is ‘no’.
Around 60 percent of Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese, and the National Health and Medical Research Council predicts that by 2025, 83 percent of men and 75 percent of women will be overweight or obese if current trends continue.
The problem is not how we look on the outside, it’s the real harm we are doing to our bodies.
Twenty-two percent of Aussies in 2015 had cardiovascular disease, which is now the number one cause of death and sickness in our country, while 280 Australians develop diabetes every single day. That’s one person every five minutes.
For me, even more worrying is that evidence shows that we're passing on our bad habits to our kids. Around one in four (27.4 percent) of children aged 5-17 are already overweight or obese.
Let’s face it, this is depressing reading, however I found a glimmer of light in an a very unexpected place. I was recently involved with the Certus Accelerate event where I met Simon Gault. Simon is a ‘Celebrity Chef to the Stars’ and a Master Chef Judge. I was there to talk about Data Stewardship, but I was fascinated by Simon’s own personal health battles and how he is leveraging technology to improve things for the wider community.
As Simon informed us, in 2012, IBM paired up with New York’s prestigious Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) to do something that had never been done before – create a computational, creative virtual chef.
Now at first this may not sound that impressive to you. But when you really think about it, this is a machine actually capable of creativity. Top chefs who can understand the complex combinations of ingredients and create new tastes and flavour combinations are considered artists, and the ability of a computer to mimic this very ‘human’ type of creativity is fascinating.
Chef Watson was first trained on the chemical composition of food using tens of thousands of recipes. It was then taught to master the flavours and ingredients that complement each other in food pairings. Finally, Watson was programmed to produce novel food combinations that had not yet been tasted. And thus, Chef Watson was born.
Today Chef Watson is changing the way we think about food and is a tool used by some of the world’s top chefs. Simon Gault has been using IBM Watson’s analytical approach to creativity for some time. For Simon it is not the ingredients that it can put into a recipe that’s fascinating, it is what it can leave out!
Simon talked about creating a new and modern way to eat, one where flavour and health were not at odds.
“We can say goodbye to refined sugar, trans fat, feeling bloated and food hangovers. I've been travelling and researching ingredients and techniques that keep my food full of flavour without sacrificing taste. Chef Watson can help to eliminate the things that make it not so good for you by replacing unhealthy ingredients with substitutions that you may never have dreamt of.” - Simon Gault. “There are things Chef Watson comes up with that really push the boundaries – things I hadn’t ever thought of before.”
To prove his point, Simon served us up a delicious yet uber healthy menu. Now not to discredit my mum’s cooking, but I was very impressed with this new-wave cuisine!
To me, it makes perfect sense that tomorrow’s diet will be as different as today’s was from my mum’s cooking. It was fascinating to hear Simon talking about how Chef Watson can simultaneously push the boundaries of flavour combination and healthy eating.
If the future of food is technology driven and we can have healthy and tasty then I am down with that. Especially if Watson can create me a healthy version of that tea cake. After all, I deserve it following a hard day of blog-writing at the office!
I would highly recommend coming to see Simon Gault at the Australian Certus Accelerate events. I think, like me, you’ll find the food deliciously different and the presentations enjoyable, interesting and surprising.
Here is a short video of the NZ Event where I met Simon.
Click here to find some more information about the Australian events in September.