Woe is me, stuck at my desk in July and August, bum in chair, eyes fixed (glumly) on the screen, nose to the grindstone. Am I the only Mainer resentful of vacationers, retirees, teachers and even innocent, frolicking schoolchildren?

Even if it hasn’t felt like it much so far this year as I write this (cue the rain), it is, in fact, summer in Vacationland. Many of my colleagues are on holiday, but the paper still needs to go out every day. At home, houseguests roll in like waves to the shore, meaning sheets to wash, toilets to scrub and activities to plan. I swear the weeds in the garden grow a foot whenever I look away.

Wait! I have an idea! I know how I can free up some precious time: ChatGPT.

I will ask the artificial intelligence model to write a few food articles for me and whip up a few recipes. While I cannot endorse the spreading of fake news, the destruction of democracy and the overthrow of the human race – all ominous specters raised by ChatGPT, according to the experts – go ahead, AI, take my job for the summer.

Meanwhile, you’ll find me at the beach.



Ask the Press Herald’s summer interns for help. Right, they are here to learn from us, but c’mon, a computer question? We all know who is teaching whom. They had me set up with a ChatGPT account in under a minute. (Thank you, Vaughn Vial, Megh Bindra and Janet Briggs.)

If I thought that was fast, I was dazzled by the speed of ChatGPT. I’d barely finish typing out my “prompts” before it spit back extensive and coolly confident answers – even when it got them wrong. My conversation with the interns as they helped me make requests of ChatGPT was punctuated heavily with “OMG!” “That’s insane!” Wow! “So cool!” “That is amaaazing!”

I asked the chatbot for recipes that well-known Mainers might cook. I asked it for restaurant reviews “in the style of …” I asked it to create new flavors of Gifford’s ice cream and Stonewall Kitchen jam.

Chef Damian Sansonetti at Chaval, the restaurant he owns with his wife, pastry chef Ilma Lopez. So been there, done that. Chef, maybe you want to venture into the galaxy?!

I instructed it to write Portland restaurant Chaval’s chef/proprietor, Damien Sansonetti, into a Star Wars movie; he’s a fan. Chef, isn’t it time for a new opportunity? I got you a gig cooking for Hans Solo and his group of “rogue-ish smugglers.” You’re welcome.

And I asked it to give me the opening scene of a biopic about Fore Street founding chef Sam Hayward. And by the way, who would play him? Yeah, don’t look for “Culinary Maestro” in theaters anytime soon.

I instructed the model to update traditional New England Indian pudding, and to develop a recipe for salmon pea wiggle that could be served at a fancy restaurant in Portland. After adding shallots, garlic and Parmesan cheese to the basic wiggle white sauce, and swapping the usual canned salmon for fresh fillets, canned peas for fresh in the pod, and canned evaporated milk for heavy cream, the recipe delivered this advice:


“Note: Salmon Pea Wiggle is a classic comfort food dish, and while it may not be as common on fancy restaurant menus, you can adapt it to fit the desired level of elegance by focusing on presentation and using high-quality ingredients.”

When I requested a recipe for whoopie pies written by an angry person, ChatGPT let its imagination run wild. At least, it seemed that way. The ingredients list called for “1 teaspoon vanilla extract (another drop of false hope)” and “1 cup marshmallow fluff (a gooey mess, just like everything else).”


Speaking of sweet, gooey messes, I’m pleased to say that ChatGPT is no Laurie Colwin (writer and beloved Gourmet magazine food columnist), no Anthony Bourdain, no first-ever-food-writer-to-win-a-Pulitzer Jonathan Gold. (Yet.) In my test runs, its writing fell squarely between bland, generic and painfully cliched. Often, it sounded like bad ad copy. Here’s how it described, in part and in just seconds, Blissberry Breeze, its newly created flavor for a Stonewall Kitchen jam:

“Taste the harmony of flavors and experience the sheer joy of Blissberry Breeze – the perfect blend of blueberries, raspberries, and lavender that will transport your taste buds to a state of pure bliss! Spread it generously on warm buttered toast for a heavenly breakfast treat, drizzle it over pancakes or waffles for an extra burst of flavor, or use it as a filling for pastries and desserts to create a gourmet culinary masterpiece.”

I read the passage to Colby Assistant Statistics Professor Jerzy Wieczorek, who has researched ChatGPT and teaches classes on AI from a statistician’s perspective.


“There is a lot of very generic writing out there, and yeah, in some ways it’s easier to generate writing that is so generic than compelling writing with a more individual voice,” Wieczorek said. He gave me a basic description of how AI works.

“They start with a whole bunch of data and try to teach the computer to detect certain things. Is this a recipe or not? Is this food writing or not?” he explained. “It will look for the most generic things it can to distinguish these things from each other. My understanding is the more you want it to hang together, for the pieces to lock well together, that’s a lot easier if they are pretty generic pieces.”

Ah well, who’s to say what good writing is anyway, I commented philosophically.

“All it knows is there a lot of writing like that,” Wieczorek replied. “If it wants to mimic human writing, it’s going to mimic the majority.”

Beyond questions of style, ChatGPT made mistakes, or, more generously, was highly inventive. I asked it to build an ice cream sundae that “exemplifies Maine.” To a base of wild blueberry ice cream, it suggested a drizzle of maple syrup and a swirl of sea salt caramel, the latter “to capture the essence of Maine’s coastal vibe.”

Its “Lobster Tail Waffle Cone” struck me as genius – although, come to think of it, do sundaes even come with cones? “The unique cone design pays homage to the famous Maine lobster, creating a playful and eye-catching element,” ChatGPT wrote.

Wieczorek liked the crustacean-shaped cone, too.

“Maybe the lobster tail was a happy accident (or) maybe a shop really does sell Maine lobster tail cones, which I’d love to find,” he said. “It sounds delicious. Or maybe something else – like a furniture shop where the legs are lobster shaped or random knickknacks, lobster-shaped baseball bats, lobster-shaped tables. It might have decided, clearly something from Maine has to be lobster-shaped.”

Anyway, so far, so good. But things went south (specifically to Texas or Georgia) with the buttered pecans. “Maine is also known for its delicious pecans, often used in traditional recipes,” ChatGPT stated, wrongly, with blithe assurance.

Fine. Since the model was veering toward fiction, I’d play along. “What’s a dish that Olive Kitteridge might bring to a dinner party?” I prompted it.

“Olive Kitteridge, a fictional character created by author Elizabeth Strout, is known for her no-nonsense personality and straightforward nature. When it comes to food, Olive might prefer simple and hearty dishes that reflect her practicality.”

Brunswick author Elizabeth Strout, creator of the Olive Kitteridge books. Photo by Leonardo Cendamo

The suggested dish was for Potato Casserole with Roasted Vegetables. I sent the recipe to Strout, who lives in Brunswick part of the year, and asked her if she thought ChatGPT understood her famous, and famously blunt, character, depicted in the novels “Olive Kitteridge” and “Olive, Again.”

“Here is my Olive response straight from her mouth,” Strout emailed me back: “Phooey. Such foolishness. When would I ever eat garlic.”


No, I can’t be the only Mainer who wants some more of the vacation piece of Vacationland. Pity the poor chefs. Summer is their crazy season, a sprint from July 4 to Labor Day. In a brief two months, they must make enough money to see their restaurants through the slow, lingering Maine winter.

ChatGPT to the rescue. “Restaurants could totally capitalize on this!” intern Megh Bindra said with enthusiasm.

ChatGPT, “please give me an appetizer with heirloom tomatoes in the style of Central Provisions’ Chris Gould,” I typed.

Gould, it answered, is “known for his modern and creative culinary approach.” It proceeded to produce a decidedly uncreative recipe for Heirloom Tomato Caprese Skewers, calling for bocconcini, basil, balsamic, olive oil, skewers. It also misidentified the Portland restaurant chef/proprietor Gould as the “former executive chef.”

I emailed the recipe to Gould, who, it turns out, is highly uninterested in capitalizing on the AI revolution.

“As far as the Chatter bot goes it is ridiculous. That is the reason why AI will replace many hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next few years but culinary will not be one of them,” he emailed. “Creativity is not an algorithm. I think people would be pretty disappointed with caprese salad skewers if they received them at CP. Not to say if you made that dish using high-quality ingredients that it wouldn’t be delicious, but anyone could make this at home very easy. Part of going to Central Provisions is experiencing techniques, flavors combinations of products that are inaccessible at home. I will stay clear of asking chat GPT for advice on putting together new menu ideas.”

He added a smiley face laughing emoji.

Erin French in The Lost Kitchen. Could she use a helping hand from ChatGPT? Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Next up, Erin French. I figured that as chef/proprietor of Lost Kitchen in Freedom, a cookbook and memoir author, a hotelkeeper, the star of her own TV series, an online retailer, and the force behind a new farmers market in Freedom, she has her hands full and might appreciate an assist. I used the same prompt, but substituted her name.

About a minute after I emailed her the ChatGPT-generated recipe for Heirloom Tomato Tartines (crusty bread, sliced tomatoes, goat cheese, honey, thyme leaves, olive oil), Michael Dutton, French’s husband and director of media relations, telephoned.

“This is hilarious. I just read through this recipe to her. She was a little speechless,” he said.

French had a few recipe quibbles, he reported, including the lack of edible flowers; she’s known for using them liberally. “This would not be something she would make typically,” he said, “but the spirit of it is not far off.”

Dutton added that he’d recently been nagging his 17-year-old son to write a thank-you note. Finally, after the umpteenth parental prod, the teen sent his dad a copy of the note he said he’d written that day. “It was pristine. It was the most pristine note I’ve ever seen,” Dutton said.

“‘Dude, there is no way you wrote this,’” Dutton told his son.

“He finally fessed up to the whole ChatGPT thing.”


ChatGPT was becoming addictive. I asked for a restaurant review of Texas Roadhouse in the style of Portland Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross, an elegant, brainy and sophisticated writer. With clunkers like this – “However, among the myriad options, Texas Roadhouse … has garnered a significant following. Intrigued by the buzz, I recently ventured into the establishment to uncover the truth behind its popularity” – and this – “In conclusion, Texas Roadhouse falls short of the expectations set by Portland’s discerning diners,” not even close.

I asked what the North Pond Hermit might eat for dinner. “Foraged Vegetable Stir-Fry” it shot back. Impressive! And I asked what Martha Stewart would serve Snoop Dogg for dinner in July at her Maine estate. The menu in part: Maine lobster mac and cheese, grilled steak “with a touch of Snoop Dogg’s favorite ingredient, a hint of smoky barbecue sauce,” and blueberry pie with lemon mascarpone.

Bindra told me she and her friends sometimes tell ChatGPT what ingredients they have in their fridges and pantries and ask for recipes they can make with those items. Why not direct your request to the terrific New York Times food website, which lets you plug in ingredients and do recipe searches?

“Yeah, I could go on the New York Times and get a probably better recipe,” Bindra conceded, “but this feels appropriate for the times.”

“So it’s cool?”

“Yeah, exactly,” she said. “It’s a novelty.”

A win-win. Readers, I get to loll at the beach, and you get cool. See you after Labor Day!


ChatGPT, “Please give me a recipe for Indian Pudding that represents fusion cuisine.”

In fact, this recipe was the chatbot’s third try. When I asked it, first, for an “updated” Indian Pudding, then for a “contemporary” Indian pudding, it provided classic recipes for one of New England’s oldest desserts (it first appears in print in Amelia Simmons’ 1796 “American Cookery”). But when I asked it for a fusion pudding, it made the Christopher Columbus error, confusing, or in this case fusing, Native Americans (the source of the cornmeal in Indian Pudding) with actual Indians from the continent of India.

It produced a recipe that combined classic Indian ingredients – saffron, cardamom, ghee, jaggary and coconut milk – with the basic proportions and cornmeal of the original.

Admittedly, the error was quite tasty. I say that with some reluctance, as I’m not keen on turning over the job of recipe creation to AI. A conglomerate creation can’t possibly reveal an individual cook’s life/history/culture/journey/memories/story, which is something just about every food blog, Substack newsletter and cookbook in America these days is going for – with reason. Can food written by AI resonate? Does it connect us around a shared table?

Then I remember what Wieczorek said when I asked him at the end of our interview if there was anything else he’d like people to understand about ChatGPT.

“None of this is the computer on its own, the same way that an airplane isn’t a bird. It’s a technology developed by careful work by millions of humans,” he said. “It does not have a mind of its own. It’s a very elaborate, very detailed, very well-put-together piece of engineering. But it’s humans all the way down.”

Adding the flaked coconut garnish to ChatGPT’s Fusion Indian Pudding. It’s served here with a scoop of Earl Gray tea ice cream, but Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky found the dessert so rich, she thinks the ice cream may be unnecessary. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer



4 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup jaggery (Indian unrefined cane sugar) or brown sugar
1/4 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of saffron strands
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Shredded coconut for garnish


Preheat your oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease a 2-quart baking dish and set it aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the coconut milk over medium heat until it starts to steam. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes, until it thickens.

Reduce the heat to low and add the jaggery or brown sugar, ghee, chopped pistachios, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, and salt to the saucepan. Stir well to combine all the ingredients. Continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually whisk in about a cup of the hot coconut milk mixture into the beaten eggs to temper them. This prevents the eggs from curdling when added to the hot mixture.

Slowly pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan while whisking constantly. Cook the pudding for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream until well combined.

Pour the pudding mixture into the greased baking dish. Smooth the surface with a spatula.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the pudding is set and the top is golden brown. It should have a slight jiggle in the center when gently shaken.

Once baked, remove the Indian Pudding from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Garnish with shredded coconut before serving.

Enjoy your fusion-inspired Indian Pudding with its unique blend of flavors!


I really loved the flavors, but found the pudding too rich and slightly greasy. To remedy that, the next time I make it, I will reduce the amount of ghee from 4 tablespoons to 2 or possibly just 1 (and I think butter would be fine). At the same time, I’ll either swap the 1/2 cup heavy cream for whole milk or possibly eliminate it entirely. And I’d consider using up to 1 cup of milk in place of the equivalent amount of coconut milk; coconut milk is much higher in fat.

Saffron steeps in a bit of warmed coconut milk for ChatGPT’s Fusion Indian Pudding. The idea to steep, was in fact, added by HI (Human Intelligence) as opposed to AI. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

Next, if you are spending all that money on saffron – the most expensive ingredient in the world – make it count! After you’ve heated the coconut milk, remove a few tablespoons and steep the saffron in the warmed milk for 10 minutes before adding it to the rest of the batter.

I’d suggest reserving the pistachio nuts for garnish, with the coconut flakes. I think pomegranate seeds would be a really nice addition to the garnish, both visually and tastewise (a word, incidentally, that I just googled to see if it was really is a word, only to discover it is the name for an Israeli company that is “an AI-powered data platform for food & beverage.”)

Finally, ChatGPT specified a 2-quart baking dish. I used the equivalent of a large, flat lasagna pan, but the pudding emerged unappealingly flat. Next time, I will try a smaller pan.

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