The heat generated by ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence software has entered the kitchen — or at least the kitchens of TikTok, where creator Michelle Meng, aka @hashslingers, has been pitting recipes generated by AI against those created by professional chefs, restaurant chains, food brands, and the occasional celebrity. With over a dozen videos released so far, Meng’s ongoing experiment has included McDonald’s apple pie, Claire Saffitz’s focaccia bread, and Taylor Swift’s chai sugar cookies, each of which Meng has pitted against an AI-generated recipe for the same dish.
The project, which was inspired by Patrick Zeinali’s YouTube short “Robot Vs Human Bake Off,” was born earlier this year after Meng was laid off from her job as a software engineer. Meng started @hashslingers in 2021 as a creative outlet — she also has a YouTube channel — and, following her layoff, has decided to give herself a year to pursue her passions. We talked to her about the winning and losing recipes, ChatGPT as a cooking tool, and the debate around AI.
Eater: What have you found so far? Do real chefs tend to win out in this, or does AI?
Michelle Meng: It’s really been a toss-up. Mostly, chefs and restaurants and creators typically win, but there hasn’t been an obvious pattern.
I’ve noticed that with dishes that require very technical skills, like baking or using yeast, the AI does okay, as in it’s edible. But the chefs usually take the wins on those because the AI’s directions aren’t really fleshed out. Baking’s just very exact. In cultural dishes, like Uncle Roger’s fried rice or Golden Gully’s mango kulfi, the chef typically wins because they better understand the background and the flavor of the cuisine.
[But] AI does surprisingly well every time. It wins mainly against food chains, and occasionally other recipes, because it throws in more complex ingredients.
What recipes have you noticed that AI does really well?
Mainly food chains. We’ve done Panda Express orange chicken and In-N-Out animal style fries.
I think some of it has to do with actually cooking it at home, and giving attention to the food, versus just assembling the food at a fast food chain. I do try to keep that in mind when doing the judging.
The only case where the AI has actually won against the chef is with Gordon Ramsay’s scrambled eggs, which was really surprising.
What do you think this means for recipe creation?
There’s been a lot of debate about this in my comments. Similar to the conversation about AI-generated art, there’s the notion that AI is taking chefs’ and food bloggers’ online recipes — which are their creative and intellectual property — and using them without due credit. There is a discussion to be had there.
In general, with the rise of AI and machine learning, a lot of people are scared that it’s taking over. But as someone who’s studied and built this technology, it’s difficult to reassure people that it’s more of a tool and less of a replacement.
In my opinion, things like ChatGPT are a great cooking tool. If I was a new chef or a home cook who wants to learn more, ChatGPT is a single source that I can go to ask for a recipe and subsequently ask for different cooking tips or techniques. It’s less effort than scouring the internet for different recipes. But in terms of recipe creation, it’s hard to replicate the history, emotion, and human touch that’s so important in food.
Do you think then that we should be worried about AI in the recipe space?
I’m not sure if I stand firmly on one side or the other. AI is kind of doing what humans do, but on a larger and faster scale. When humans watch content or look up recipes or even look at art, we consume that knowledge, and it impacts what we do. If I’m researching recipes, I note the directions and ingredients, and I make it my own. But it is inspired by other content that I’ve consumed before. Technically speaking, I don’t necessarily think AI is violating intellectual property, but, morally, I’m unsure.
Do you think that using AI in cooking is going to grow more popular? Have you seen other creators follow your lead?
I’ve seen a couple of similar videos pop up on my TikTok. I find it super interesting to see people trying different chefs, recipes, and techniques. It has been a pretty popular thing on social media right now, and I hope people actually give it a try.
I’m not sure if it’s just a fad of the times. Right now, ChatGPT and AI is a pretty popular topic, so I hope that it stays relevant and people find it a useful tool.
Have you noticed whether the ChatGPT recipes are getting better as time goes on?
I’ve noticed that all of the recipes actually work out pretty well, and sometimes they’re super tasty. I’ve never had one fail horribly. As the videos go on, I see that the directions get more sophisticated in terms of describing the actual steps of the process, which would be really helpful to people who are going to use ChatGPT as a cooking tool.
What do you want to see come out of the experiment? Is it a fun thing to do, or do you hope that it makes people think differently about how AI can be used in the kitchen?
A little bit of both. It was just a fun way to merge tech and cooking, which are my two passions.
The initial thought behind the experiment was whether AI could be a useful tool in the kitchen. I’d like to make people more open to the idea of trying out new technology, especially with cooking, since it’s an area where tradition is a big part of it, and things are usually done a very specific and certain way.
Is your plan to continue doing this indefinitely, and see how AI evolves with cooking? Or is there another goal?
I don’t have anything seriously planned out right now, but I would love to continue the series if people are enjoying it and getting something from it — and, somehow, maybe evolve it.
Ultimately, do you foresee AI replacing humans in the kitchen?
I don’t think that AI will be replacing humans in the kitchen. It’s just an interesting tool to try. And if it’s useful, that’s cool.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton reports on the business beat at the Denver Post, and previously covered agriculture and trade policy for Bloomberg Government. She also writes for Eater, Smithsonian Magazine, Delish and more.