Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Okay, so I end up looking at a lot of weird things from time to time. Yesterday, I happened across an article on the Wikipedia about herbalism. Two sentences in this article caught my eye: "Physicians may not be the best sources of information because most have no knowledge of herbal medicine. There is little known about interactions of herbal remedies with pharmaceuticals because, contrary to pharmaceutical medicine, there is no official system, database, or hotline to report and publish adverse interactions, so even herbalists may not be aware of adverse interactions."

It got me to thinking about things. How many efforts end up like this because two concepts are so seemingly different that the few who dare to find correlation end up so horribly wrong? I'm going back to open-source here. Personally, I love the concept of open source. I also love cooking. And as previously stated, I'm not the first person to consider a combination of the two. Keeping the above quote in mind, I started thinking about the Open Source Cookbook again. This was quite the undertaking, started by an individual who is very knowledgeable about open source, but possibly only a hobbiest in cooking. He stated to me at one point that much of the information came from a well-known tome of cookery which I had personally long-since written off as a collection of half-true and largely unresearched wives' tales.

I also started thinking about recipe software. When was the last time you used a recipe program that wasn't absolutely painful to use, at least on a regular basis? The interface is either obtuse (at least for entering recipes) or largely featureless. And rarely does it take everything into account that you feel is necessary. No wonder Food Network offers on option on their site for printing recipe cards, but not for RecipeML export. I once had a chef tell me that while his company had purchased a high-end recipe management program, he never used it because it was ultimately a waste of time. Every recipe in that restaurant was kept in sheet protectors in binders, and most of them were still hand-written.

My theory is that chefs and programmers are not the same people. A good number of chefs would not consider themselves computer savvy, and the majority of programmers have never schooled in culinary arts, nor spent any significant time (if any) working in restaurants without drive-thru windows. Yet, having been a programmer and having been studied in culinary arts, I've found several similarities between the two. For instance, both tend to be used to long days. A chef may be the first to arrive at the restaurant before it opens, and not be surprised if he does not find time to go home (or even take a break) until well after closing. And doing this 6 days in a row, while possibly annoying, will also not surprise him. Let's compare to a serious debugging session, or an upcoming project deadline that may find a programmer working late for consecutive weeks, with more caffeine than blood in his veins. Between my brief forays into catering and some 14-hour Perl sessions I've involved myself in, I don't think I could personally tell you which left me feeling more exhasted and fulfilled.

I suppose this explains why Alton Brown has become so popular in geek circles of late. The man is not a programmer. He's a film major that happened to go to culinary school, and used the two talents and passions to build himself a professional career on Food Network. But he dissects food, he explains it in terms that programmers love. Cooking with Alton is almost like coding in C++; you understand a lot of the foundations that are causing your code to work (be it memory registers or brining), yet you have the advantage of working in a little bit higher-level language. It makes me wonder if a more complete combination of food and programming is emergent. Will we start to see more projects like the Open Source Cookbook and RecipeML in the near future?


  1. My theory is that chefs and programmers are not the same people.

    And yet look at Plug. While I in no means consider myself a real chef (trained etc), I really like my food. And I definitely care enough to learn more about it and make it better. It's the same process that drove me to Unix/Linux, and other tools. I wanted to make what I enjoy doing the best it could be. I wanted to enjoy the process as well as have the best end result possible. As your blog and Lug meetings have shown, there is a very large Foodie/Geek crossover.

    And no, it's not just because we're all getting fat behind a keyboard while munching on cheetos and soda.

    As for the recipe software, I'll agree that I've never met one that I liked.

  2. Dude, you sound like you have some ideas for a recipie program. Do you?

    I'm not familiar with any recipe software, what kinds of things do they lack?


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