Yesterday, I had lunch with my retirement center gaggle of men, all over 90. (Blog 7/15/15) As the day was sunny, they were seated near a window. One had ordered a bowl of soup; the other sat before a cup of coffee; a third had grabbed a boiled egg from the salad counter. When my order came, the eyes of one of the gentlemen, formerly a judge, opened to the size of half dollars. “Boy,” he marveled. “This woman can eat.” I stared down at my plate. It contained a grilled cheese sandwich and a small salad. Nonetheless, I suddenly felt like a truck driver.
The former psychologist, the one with the bowl of soup, wrinkled his nose at my order. “They mean well in this place. But they don’t know how to cook.”
As a person ages, the days revolve around meals, not so much because a person is hungry, but because it’s a social hour. Appetites wane with the passage of time, and, in part, I suspect it’s because institutional cooking is bland. I call my mother at her retirement center everyday and everyday what she talks about is the horrible food. At times, I feel like joining her in her complaint because the choices at my residence are so few. The menu caters to carnivores. The vegetarians, only a handful in number, are supposed to be satisfied with an abundance of raw spinach.
As so often happens when I’m mulling an issue, I find an article that seems pertinent. On this occasion, Robert Hackett had written about food fatigue and a possible remedy: Technology. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Technology has taken over so much of our lives. It keeps our secrets, our calendars, is a partner in our medical treatments, and replaces our body parts. But I never imagined IBM’s computer, Watson, would assume the role of chef. Nonetheless, it’s true. After its triumph on television’s Jeopardy, it’s taking on TV aficionados like Gordon Ramsey, Head Chef on the TV competition show, Hell’s Kitchen. (“The Name’s Watson. Chef Watson,” by Robert Hackett, Fortune, June, 2015, pg. 34.)
Watson’s mission is to search for exotic tastes that will surprise the palate. So far, it’s concocted enough treats to fill a cookbook, which was published this July. Think mushroom and strawberry kabobs or a sweet corn biscuits containing lime juice and chili powder. How about a drink mixing pale ale, veal stock and peaches as starter ingredients? Watson is also working on recipes that address allergies and food restrictions. (Ibid pg. 34)
I doubt IBM’s computer will ever compete with Julia Child for pure entertainment, but these new concoctions hold out hope for the elderly who want to wake up their taste buds with a little zing. I’m guessing it will be a welcome relief from boiled eggs and soup.
(Originally posted 7/16/15)