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Kittch launches in beta to be the Twitch for cooking

Diane Davis

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Chef Amanda Shulman is chattering away as she expertly whacks a pile of charred beets with a knife and tosses them into a bowl.

“I just want them to be roughly chopped,” she says. “I like when things are recognizable. You should be able to take a bite [of a dish], and it should be full of all these things, not, like, minced.” 

Shulman is prepping a course—leek and Gruyere fritelle—for dinner that night at her Philadelphia pop-up restaurant, Her Place Supper Club, which became an overnight sensation when it opened its doors last summer. She’s in the kitchen at the restaurant, but the people she’s talking to are part of a virtual audience who have gathered to watch her on a new digital food-and-cooking platform called Kittch.

[Screenshot: Kittch]

The platform has a free and easy vibe—at one point, Shulman can’t find a place to put her laptop (the stove is too hot), so she starts streaming from her phone. Viewers, who are part of a select group called Chef’s Table, jump in and ask questions (“Where did you get that cheese?”), send emojis as a form of applause, and laugh at Shulman’s self-deprecating, off-the-cuff humor.  

Cofounded by media veteran and entrepreneur Brian Bedol (who founded the sports channels that would become ESPN Classic and CBS Sports Network); Doug DeLuca, a coexecutive producer on Jimmy Kimmel Live; and Elana Karp, the former head chef and cofounder of Plated, Kittch is essentially Twitch for culinary enthusiasts and chefs. “Culinary creators,” as Bedol prefers to call them. Currently in beta mode with $5 million in seed funding led by KarpReilly LLC, and a glittering cast of founding members, including Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster Harlem); Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco); and James Beard-winning chef Chris Shepard (Underbelly), the platform is a 24/7 live stream of cooking classes, wine tastings, brewery tours, recipe trials, documentary-style videos, and any type of live feed that chefs—and brands—want it to be.

[Screenshot: Kittch]

It also provides a way for chefs to add new revenue streams and grow the digital side of their business, something that has become imperative as the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the traditional, brick-and-mortar restaurant industry. Chefs can opt to stream content for free on their channels or charge viewers—via tokens called “clams”—for special experiences and classes. Viewers can also tip chefs with clams at any time, and an e-commerce feature is being worked on. There also will be opportunities for brand partnerships and sponsorship deals. 

“It frees you up,” says Shulman, who in the early days of the pandemic taught Zoom cooking classes to make money. “Instead of adding a brunch service, I could teach a cooking class on Saturday morning [on Kittch] from my home and probably make the same amount of money with less overhead.”

But more than anything, Kittch is a place “where people who love food hang out with people who love food,” says Bedol, who is also Kittch’s CEO. You can tune in casually, or “you’ll be able to have your own custom Chef’s Table”—a VIP-type experience where a certain number of clams gets you a private viewing of a chef in action—”so you’ll be able to invite a bunch of friends and have a special session with a chef. It’s designed to be a very social place.” 

The unbundling of Twitch begins

If Kittch sounds like a mashup between Twitch, YouTube, and Zoom, it is. But unlike those platforms, it has a distinctly curated, high-end feel, à la Instagram. The 50 chefs who were selected to join the platform during alpha mode are mostly pedigreed, known personalities with James Beard awards and Michelin stars. Similarly, the consumer product brands being invited to create content and build out their own channels on Kittch are upscale, boutique labels, such as Made In cookware and Domenica Fiore olive oil. The latter shot a lushly produced, six-minute, doc-style video of harvesting olives at night in Tuscany. The film lovingly shot workers gathering the fruit “under the stars,” and the finished product—a thick, shimmering green liquid—being poured tantalizingly from a wine glass, as a master olive oil maker narrated the process.  

“Kittch has a certain aesthetic and sensibility,” says Jake Kalick, cofounder and president of Made In. “For us, a performance cookware brand that is a little bit premium in nature—though we don’t lead with the term ‘premium’—it’s a really great interface, and it’s easy to use. You feel like you’re using a platform made for absorbing content in a smart way.” 

[Screenshot: Kittch]

Bedol says that as Kittch—which is free to use—grows, it will open up to more layers of creators and users. (By January 2022, it should be open to all users. Individuals are currently being added gradually from a waitlist that you can access here.) Ultimately, the ambition is to build a community of both established names and up-and-coming chefs who, say, are building out their community from TikTok or trying to expand their business beyond a new pop-up restaurant or ghost kitchen. “The goal is to be a diverse, democratic place where as you build a following, you build the ability to monetize, and you’re able to really take advantage of the platform as a place of discovery and a place of community,” Bedol says. “In two years, we would love to see 10,000 or 20,000 chefs on the platform. We don’t envision it as a place that is trying to be exclusive and exclusionary. We envision it sort of like Twitch, where you’re able to see who the most popular creators are.” 

Samuelsson credits Kittch with  “democratizing our profession. It helps the next generation of great chefs be more like street artists than classically trained chefs.” 

Kittch Confidential

Bedol’s aha moment for Kittch came during the pandemic as he watched the restaurant industry turn on its head, supplanted by food delivery and ghost kitchens. “Chefs were struggling to survive, and suddenly online food” was exploding, whereas “before COVID-19 hit, a lot of people were hesitant to order food online,” he says. “I was helping chef friends navigate this new world, and I realized it was crazy that a vertical platform didn’t exist for culinary creators. More importantly, I realized that everything that was going on on the internet was transactional. Yet hospitality is such an important part of the culinary experience. Hospitality is live, social, and communal.” 

Also noteworthy: Food and cooking is a $500 billion market that “generates billions of dollars of commerce driven by content,” Bedol says.

Kittch doesn’t have pre-roll ads or any kind of traditional advertising. Instead, the business model is built around brand sponsorships that chefs can also participate in, and revenue shares between Kittch and creators on premium or paywall content. Soon, there will also be an online marketplace where users can buy tools that chefs are using or ingredient boxes for meals. Here, too, there is potential for chefs to receive a revenue split for an ingredient box or a fish-fry basket they recommend using—and for brands to hawk their products. 

“The e-commerce is interesting,” says Made In’s Kalick. “But a huge part of what Kittch offers is really just brand awareness. Every day it’s more expensive to advertise on your classic digital platforms. If you can create engaging content that fans love, they might not go to Made In’s website right away and start purchasing things, but they’ll recognize Made In as a trusted tool used by all these chefs, and eventually become customers. So, for us, it’s an acquisition channel as well.” 

The secret ingredient for chefs

The immediacy that Kittch provides is perhaps its greatest innovation for chefs. Content creation is at a chef’s fingertips via a “mission control” dashboard, as Bedol calls it, that allows them to set up and distribute their streams and create closed or open environments for users. They can notify followers that they’re about to go live with a recipe test, for example, and even download a recipe to be attached to the stream. Shulman says that she is thinking about setting up live streams for dishes that will be available later on at dinner service, and then, after a meal, offering opportunities for viewers to watch her break down a recipe. 

“You don’t want to feel like you’re always trying to create something when you’re already making content naturally,” she says. “So the way I see it, Kittch is a platform where you capture what you’re already doing, and it kind of pulls back the curtain on the most amazing content in the world that’s just happening.” 

[Screenshot: Kittch]

Shep Gordon, the entertainment and culinary manager who’s worked with Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, and Wolfgang Puck, and who is also a founding member of Kittch, says that back when he was building the brands of celebrity chefs, “Artists had to go through a huge filtering system [that] mostly compromised what their vision was,” he says. “The beauty of [Kittch] is that the artist can be who the artist is.

“Also, there’s the ability for the audience to find the next stars, rather than being manipulated into who the next stars are. There are spots for the smaller players, too. There are a lot of chefs who don’t want to do 30 restaurants, but they still want to send their kids to private school. This gives them a way.”


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Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario-like games from scratch

Diane Davis

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example of game generated from a crayon sketch

“It’s cool work,” says Matthew Gudzial, an AI researcher at the University of Alberta, who developed a similar game generator a few years ago. 

Genie was trained on 30,000 hours of video of hundreds of 2D platform games taken from the internet. Others have taken that approach before, says Gudzial. His own game generator learned from videos to create abstract platformers. Nivida used video data to train a model called GameGAN, which could produce clones of games like Pac-Man.

But all of these examples trained the model with input actions, button presses on a games controller, as well as video footage: a video frame showing Mario jumping was paired with the “jump” action, and so on. Tagging video footage with input actions takes a lot of work, however. This has limited the amount of training data available. 

In contrast, Genie was trained on video footage alone. It then learned which of eight possible actions would cause the game character in a video to change its position. This turned countless hours of existing online video into potential training data. 

Genie can generate simple games from hand-drawn sketches

GOOGLE DEEPMIND

Genie generates each new frame of the game on the fly depending on the action the player takes. Press jump and Genie updates the current image to show the game character jumping; press left and the image changes to show the character moved to the left. The game ticks along action by action, each new frame generated from scratch as the player plays. 

Future versions of Genie could run faster. “There is no fundamental limitation that prevents us from reaching 30 frames per second,” says Tim Rocktäschel, a research scientist at Google DeepMind who leads the team behind the work. “Genie uses many of the same technologies as contemporary large language models, where there has been significant progress in improving inference speed.” 

Genie learned some common visual quirks found in platformers. Many games of this type use parallax, where the foreground moves sideways faster than the background. Genie often adds this effect to the games it generates.  

While Genie is an in-house research project and won’t be released, Gudzial notes that the Google DeepMind team says it could one day be turned into a game-making tool—something he’s working on too. “I’m definitely interested to see what they build,” he says.

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Tackling long-haul diseases | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis

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Tal, who has been obsessed with infectious disease since losing an uncle to HIV/AIDS and a cousin to meningococcal meningitis, wondered what this striking diversity could reveal about our immune response to infection. According to one hypothesis, the wide array of these receptors is the result of an evolutionary arms race between disease-causing microbes and the immune system. Think of the receptor as a lock, and the “Nothing to see here” message as a key. Pathogens might evolve to produce their own chemical mimics of this key, effectively hiding from the immune system in plain sight. In response, the human population has developed a wide range of locks to frustrate any given impostor key. 

Wanting to test this hypothesis, Tal found herself walking the halls of Stanford, asking colleagues, “Who’s got a cool bug?” Someone gave her Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Previous research from Tal’s collaborator Jenifer Coburn, a microbiologist now at the Medical College of Wisconsin, had established that Lyme bacteria sport a special protein crucial for establishing a lasting infection. Knock this protein out, and the immune system swiftly overwhelms the bugs. The big question, however, was what made this protein so essential. So Tal used what’s known as a high-affinity probe as bait—and caught the Borrelia’s mimic of our “Don’t eat me” signal binding to it. In other words, she confirmed that the bacteria’s sneakyprotein was, as predicted, a close match for a healthy cell’s signal.  

Sex differences in Lyme infection

Until then, Tal says, she had never given Lyme disease much thought. But the more she learned, the more disturbed she grew. Even after timely antibiotic treatment, roughly 10% of all Lyme patients go on to develop chronic symptoms that can include crushing pain, debilitating fatigue, and cognitive changes that make basic tasks a struggle.  

This confocal micrograph depicts Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which cause Lyme disease when transmitted to humans by ticks. These Borrelia were genetically engineered to produce a green fluorescent protein.

COURTESY OF THE TAL RESEARCH GROUP

Perhaps even more alarming than the disease has been the medical community’s response to it. “I realized that there’s this public health debacle around Lyme, and it’s, for lack of a better word, obscene,” Tal says. Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, clinicians have dismissed their symptoms as signs of mental illness. The medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.” 

Today, there is no objective way to diagnose chronic Lyme, and no medically accepted therapy. For some patients, lengthy treatments with high doses of antibiotics can ease symptoms, but these come with their own serious risks. (They can, for example, damage the microbiome, leading to significant negative effects on health.) And because the antibiotic used currently only prevents bacteria from replicating, Tal notes, it’s up to the immune system to actually kill off the invaders. If immune cells can’t tell friend from foe, the utility of antibiotics may be limited. 

Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, the medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.”

For Tal, these revelations were electrifying. She dove into the immunology of Lyme disease, focusing in particular on sex differences. In one mouse experiment, she discovered that Lyme bacteria “completely disfigured” the uterus. Yet after delving through decades of Lyme research, she could find only one other study that even documented uterine infection. 

This shortfall mirrors larger problems in medical research. “We’ve let men dictate the direction of research funding for so long,” Tal says. Traditionally, studies focused on male subjects, and a 1977 FDA policy barred women from participating in most clinical trials in the US in the wake of birth defects caused by thalidomide. It wasn’t until 1993 that federal law required studies to include women and minorities. This, coupled with other sex- and gender-based medical biases, means that many female-dominated diseases remain under-researched. “So much of this research is being done on males, male mice—male, male, male,” Tal says. “And I’m like, no.” 

Tal suspects that the sex disparities seen in chronic Lyme and other pathogen-­triggered chronic diseases might come down to the fact that men mount a more robust response to acute infection. This no-holds-barred approach is risky—“Your immune system has the power to kill you,” she notes—but it may mean that men, on average, can kill off more viruses or bacteria in the critical first week of infection. After that window closes, the immune system largely settles back down, Tal says. Pathogens that escaped the initial blitz could take up long-term residence in the body, potentially causing persistent symptoms. And women have a higher chance of chronic illness.

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We are beavers all | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis

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old black and white photo of William Miller in a canoe

As efficient creators and stewards of wetlands, beavers provide a hospitable ecosystem for dozens of other creatures, from insects, frogs, and turtles to owls, otters, great blue herons, and even moose and deer. What’s more, by harvesting undergrowth for their dams and creating ponds and bogs that raise the moisture content of the soil, beavers lessen the likelihood that forest fires will spread. As forest fires devastated Oregon in 2021, beaver wetlands remained green and lush, acting as natural firebreaks. On aerial images of the charred landscape, the beaver’s habitat stands out, a wide and verdant ribbon running through the blackened trees.

While not all property owners who live near beaver habitats appreciate the animals’ tree removal services, the pro-­beaver movement seems to be getting more organized. In November 2023, some 300 beaver restoration advocates from North America and Europe gathered in the Beaver State (Oregon) for the annual State of the Beaver conference. “Seventy-five percent of the artificial wetland restoration projects done in America over the past 30 years have failed,” conference cofounder Stanley Petrowski told the Daily Yonder. “But when beavers do it, they do it perfectly.” 

BeaverCon, held near Baltimore in June of 2022, and the Midwest Beaver Summit, held in Chicago and online in September 2023, attracted similar crowds of humans interested in promoting beaver welfare.

It is, in fact, possible to find ways to allow beavers to continue creating their watery habitats in ways that minimize damage to human infrastructure. For example, devices such as the Beaver Deceiver can be installed to prevent beavers from damming culverts, which often leads to flooding of roads. Skip Lisle, founder of Beaver Deceivers International of Grafton, Vermont, first developed the device in the 1990s to beaver-proof the Penobscot Nation’s 130 miles of roads in Maine. “In all likelihood, they are the first large landowner to completely beaver-proof their property nonlethally,” he says.

Living organic chemical factory

At the base of their tail, all beavers have two castor sacs that store castoreum, a complex, granular substance with a strong and long-lasting musky smell. It is made up of at least 24 different compounds, primarily derived from the barks of the various trees in the beaver’s diet. Beavers deposit castoreum atop foot-high mounds of mud, sticks, and grass to mark the edges of their territory. 

Humans have long valued castoreum. About 400 BCE, Hippocrates, a chronicler of natural cures, wrote of its wonderful medical properties. Around 77 CE, the Roman naturalist Pliny listed castoreum as a cure for headaches, constipation, and epilepsy. In the Middle Ages the list of maladies castoreum was said to cure expanded to include dysentery, worms, fleas, pleurisy, gout, rheumatism, insomnia, hysteria, memory loss, and liver problems. 

Author William Miller ’51, SM ’52, reports that his foot once crashed through a beaver dam while he was dragging his canoe over it to get to the next lake in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. About 100 feet away, a watching beaver immediately began to slap its tail on the pond surface. Having just unleashed a string of curses directed at the beavers, Bill assumed that the beaver was cursing at him. But he now suspects it was sending a warning signal to the other beavers—or possibly urging them to come quickly to repair the damage caused by the trespassing human oaf.

COURTESY OF WILLIAM MILLER

As it turns out, quite a few of the tree barks that beavers prefer contain compounds with known medicinal benefits. Phenols, for example, are often anti-­inflammatory and antiseptic and can have antiviral properties. They include salicylic acid (a precursor to aspirin), which can be found in the bark of willow, poplar, and alder trees—all beaver favorites. The beaver’s system functions as a natural pharmacy, extracting these compounds (among others) and secreting them in the form of castoreum. 

Humans have also used castoreum for several nonmedical applications, such as in high-end “leather note” perfumes including Shalimar, Givenchy III, and Chanel’s Antaeus. It is an ingredient in some bourbons and vodkas and has been used in Sweden to flavor “Bäverhojt” (literally, beaver shout) schnapps.

Today, most castoreum is harvested in a sterile environment by anesthetizing beavers and expressing the castor sacs near their tails. As a food additive, castoreum extract is “generally recognized as safe,” according to the FDA. But at close to $100 per pound, it’s used sparingly. The total annual US consumption of dried castoreum is around 300 pounds.

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