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Cornell develops interactive relational database for chefs.

Preparation and presentation of a new recipe can be a daunting experience for a student. How do you parboil? When a recipe doubles, do you double all of the ingredients? Where do you put the parsley?

And what in the world is a kohlrabi?

Step-by-step instructions are helpful, but color pictures are truly worth thousands of words in learning correct culinary methods, not to mention the more esoteric ingredients.

These were the thoughts of Tom Neuhaus, a lecturer at Cornel University's School of Hotel Administration. He envisioned a graphics-packed computer database that would familiarize his students with the foods they were to prepare well before they sliced a carrot or diced a single potato.

Neuhaus wanted his students to experience visually all aspects of the culinary arts.

"Textbooks have limited black and white graphics," Neuhaus says. "To really understand the preparation of the dishes we make, 20 to 30 color pictures per item are needed. Only some sort of an interactive computer database could supply such graphics and enable our students to browse, investigate and crossreference various recipes within the framework of a single class."

To implement his ideas, Neuhaus developed the concept and supervised the writing of Fabulous, a user-friendly interface to a culinary and pictorial database now residing on four UNIX-based SparcStation 1 computers from Sun Microsystems.

Recipe for success

Fabulous--which stands for Food and Beverage Undergraduate Learning on a UNIX System--is based on the Unify Corp.'s database management system (DBMS) running on a network of SparcStations.

Initially, Neuhaus began his culinary database on personal computers, recording chemical reactions among various foods. As his computer knowledge increased, so did his desire for a more complex and diversified teaching tool.

He imagined a relational database where students could view the ingredients, recipe, preparation methods, and the finished dish simultaneously.

To implement such a tool, Neuhaus required a number of features that simply were not available on his PC system.

Speed was the first consideration--the new system had to retrieve images from the database quickly to support recipe and preparation procedures.

Multi-tasking and windowing capabilities were also vital criteria. Each step in Neuhaus's new teaching method requires instituting a number of queries that each take time to run.

With multitasking--the ability to run several applications simultaneously--it would be possible to run these inquiry sessions quickly in the background.

Windowing would enable students to observe, say, ingredients in one window, preparation steps in another, and an image of the finished dish in yet a third.

Neuhaus was also determined to have color graphics.

As he says, "Food is too exciting to ruin with back and white images."

Most of the systems he looked at were either not powerful enough, couldn't multi-task, or they were too expsnive. Then he discovered the SparcStation.

"I realized that Fabulous was going to become a reality," Neuhaus says. "The SparcStation stores more than 12,000 quality color images and corresponding text. It also offers speed, multi-tasking and windowing capabilities at an economical price."

A simply fabulous computer system

Cornell's School of Hotel Administration installed three stations for student use and a SparcServer file server.

Neuhaus' PC/AT, used primarily for capturing images, links to the workstations via Sun's PC-NFS, over and Ethernet backbone. A JVC video camera, a Targa 16 (Truevision Advanced Raster Graphics Adapter of Truevision, Inc.) and a Targa 24 image capture board, digitize photos to be entered into the PC/AT.

The Fabulous interface, which runs under X.11/NeWS, communicates with Unify, the relational DBMS residing on the SparcSserver.

Fabulous enables students to access the database in a variety of ways--through country, specific recipe, ingredient, method of cooking or a number of other categories. The database consists of thousands of entities, or files.

Under "cuisine" are more than 100 countries. Another file contains images from more than 400 restaurants, ranging from place settings to food presentations to photos of dining areas. This is often helpful if students want to see the different ways in which a particular dish can be presented.

The student chef can also obtain menus of these restaurants from yet another file. Currently, the recipe file contains approximately 200 dishes. A variety of information is included for each dish, ranging from preparation time to a difficulty rating.

Associated with the item file are three additional files. First is the tool file, which names, describes and shows photos of several hundred pieces of cooking equipment, ranging from roasting racks and whisks to nutmeg graters and food processors.

The second file associated with the item file is the formula, or ingredient file, listing between five and 25 ingredients per recipe. This file is linked to four levels of ingredient categories ranging from the most general (e.g., vegetable) to the most specific (e.g., broccoli flowerettes).

The final associated file is the steps file, which is further broken down into sub-steps.

According to Heuhaus, steps are the general preparations procedures--get the ingredients, make the batter, prepare a baking pan, bake the moussaka. Sub-steps give detailed instructions on how to make the batter or prepare the baking pan. When the student selects "prepare batter" from the menu, for example, the sub-steps automatically appear in a window on the SparcStation screen.

Typically, there are between four and 10 steps for a given dish, and anywhere from three to 50 sub-steps. Again, color photos demonstrate each sub-step.

"With this database, students have virtually everything they need at their fingertips," says Neuhaus.

Moussaka a la Cornell

Suppose a student wants to make moussaka, a Greek dish whose main ingredients are eggplant, ground meat, tomatoes and cheese.

To begin the process, he or she logs on-to the computer, activating the search function of the database. The search screen appear divided into two windows.

At the top of each window, a horizontal bar offers a number of selections. Over the left window are selections such as culture, method, menu category or ingredient. The right window bar selections include: matches, or the number of dishes corresponding to a particular left window choice--for example, there might be 50 baked vegetable dishes.

Neuhaus has designed Fabulous so selection in one area automatically generates other processes in other windows.

He states this interaction would have been difficult, if not impossible, on personal computers. For example, a student using Fabulous might know moussaka is a Greek dish.

Working in the left window he selects the icon which causes images of national flags to appear. Using a mouse, he clicks on the Greek flag and cooking methods associated with Greek cuisine appear.

The student selects "bake" and pictures of menu categories appear on the left side as pictures of baked Greek dishes appear on the right. The student might then click on the image of "entree."

If so, photos of baked Greek entrees automatically appear in the right window and a list of ingredients appear in the left. The student identifies the ingredients required at any of the four levels.

He can be as general as "vegetable" or as specific as "all dishes made with diced, peeled eggplant."

The workstation then homes in one moussaka. Because of the interactive nature of the Unify relational database management system, this is by no means the only way for the student to select a dish. He could just as easily begin with "all dishes containing beef" and continue from that entry point.

When the student clicks on the photograph of moussaka, he exits the search phase and enters the browse phase. The screen automatically clears and several new windows open simultaneously.

In the upper right corner, a window opens containing the Greek flag, photograph of the moussaka and information such as portion size, yield, baking temperature, and preparation time.

Immediately below this window is another describing the dish. If a student does not recognize a particular term, he can click on it and the workstation accesses a dictionary and displays the definition. In the upper left corner, the list of ingredients appears, along with the correct weight or volume expressed in either English or metric measurements.

The lower left window offers choices: preparation, equipment, comments, menu, and property.

If "preparation" is selected, the steps appear. By clicking on any one of them, the sub-steps required are displayed on the left and images of the equipment required on the right. The "menu" selection enables the student to peruse menus of restaurants serving moussaka, while choosing "property" brings up photos of the eating establishment's interior.

"Comments" is a trouble-shooting selection that displays pictorial data from the students themselves and includes culinary catastrophes as well as successes.

"Few books provide such information," says Neuhaus. "However, you can learn as much from mistakes as you can from creating the perfect dish."

Neuhaus plans to keep building his Fabulous creation. Soon, students will be able to compare recipes for ingredient contents such as fat, salt and cholesterol as well as for other ingredients.

The addition of sound--a Greek voice describing moussaka, for instance--will help students get into the proper cooking spirit.

Menus will also carry adjunct data such as cost and amount of labor involved. "The SparcStations make it all possible," says Neuhaus. "They give me a superior teaching tool that I think will help turn out superior hotel and restaurant personnel."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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