Image Google

For a cosmopolitan meal: "We Google Translate"

Published on by SIAL Paris - updated on

Claude Levis-Strauss made the analogy between cooking and language in 1956 to highlight the universal nature of cooking. As he says in The Culinary Triangle, "Cooking which, it has never been sufficiently emphasized is with language a truly universal form of human activity: if there is no society without a language, nor is there any which does not cook in some manner at least some of its food."

In the ten years that it has existed, Google Translate—which aims to break down language barriers by providing translation of 103 languages covering 99% of the online population—has revisited this metaphor to promote the role of their technology.

The result? The opening of a pop-up restaurant over 4 days for a multilingual culinary experience. Master chefs, mixologists and members of the Google Translate community have all contributed to blend flavours from all over the world and celebrate the universal language of cooking. SIAL takes a look at this experience with the agency m ss ng p eces.

#EveryoneSpeaksFood at Small World!

We have all used Google Translate to overcome language barriers. As a mixture of usefulness and ridiculous phrases, this artificial intelligence perfectly sums up Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous maxim: "Don't look for the meaning, look for the use". In the early days the mistakes were numerous, such as translating the French 'salade d'avocat' as 'lawyer salad'. It's true that the Google Translate developers at first relied on official texts—such as those from the UN—for translations. Exceptions in linguistic meanings were therefore far removed from the finesse of culinary language!

After ten years of research the linguistic capacities of the algorithm would be the equivalent of a ten-year-old child today. Thanks to the Google Translate community (consisting of more than 3 million people), more than 100 billion words are translated per day. In 2016 as it celebrates 10 years, 13 new languages have officially been introduced by Google: Amharic, Corsican, Frisian, Scottish Gaelic, Hawaiian, Kirghiz, Kurdish, Luxembourgish, Pashto, Samoan, Shona, Sindhi and Xhosa.

A reflection of both the richness and complexity of multiculturalism, Google Translate aims to universalise language for its approximately 500 million users. What language is more universal than that of cooking? This is why the #EveryoneSpeaksFood venture was launched over four days last April.

Image Google

Imagine you are in the middle of the NoLiTa (North of Little Italy) district, at The Old Bowery Station in New York. Symbols and words in several languages are displayed on a façade in the Google colours. This is Small World, Google Translate's pop-up restaurant! What's on the menu? Recipes from 18 master chefs. From Gerardo Gonzalez, the former chef at El Rey and Mexican cuisine master, to JJ Johnson, head chef at The Cecil whose mission has always been to introduce the cooking customs of the African diaspora to the culinary world, not forgetting the star of Asian cuisine, Danny Bowien. The presented meals play on a creative use of flavours. To continue the theme, reminiscent of Cédric Klapisch's film Pot Luck, each table has a foreign waiter speaking their native language. The world comes together with ethnic cuisine on menus presented in about ten languages. Language no longer seems a barrier served on a plate, but rather a tool for sharing.

Although this experience is primarily the result of a marketing operation—Google Translate's Small World reminds us how much gastronomy and cooking are a universal and timeless language which connects us. It is currently a link explored by technology, but it still has a long way to go to catch up! "Long before the existence of Facebook, food was the biggest social network on the planet as feeding connected us to nature on a daily basis", Alex Atala, one of the world's leading chefs, recently emphasised.

To find out more about food trends, check out Google Translate's tenth anniversary and Small World.