I remember the details surrounding the first time I purchased an America’s Test Kitchen magazine more than I remember purchasing my first and only car. On one particularly fated checkout session at Whole Foods, the clean, crisp visual of America’s Test Kitchen drew me into its pages and pages of tantalizing food images. “I must have this I thought.” When I finally glanced the price on the cover, I though, “I must have this and use this!” Use it I did, checking off page after page, as I worked my way through the majority of recipes.
As my checkmarks increased, I learned the true value of that $9.99. Each recipe was more than just a set of ingredients and steps. Each recipe represented a precise approach to obtaining perfection! Each recipe had been analyzed, tested, discussed, improved, rejected or accepted, etc until finally fit to bear the America’s Test Kitchen name and appear in print. Though this approach varies from my “ah, I’ll just use this and sub [just about everything],” I respect their maniacal methods tremendously!
Thanks to an invite from a very talented friend who works for ATK, I had the chance to experience the devotion and dedication behind the scenes.
In their own words…
America’s Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen, full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe.
After stifling my jealousy for those who work in the beautifully minimal photo studio and the ABUNDANCE of props, we continued the tour, and our path opened to the reason behind the name.
I asked one of the head recipe developers what the note-taking is like for such an intense process, and she showed me this (good thing she wasn’t using an iPad!)…
After the research phase, the ATK process draws from five existing recipes. After scouring their own extensive cookbook collection, the other sources might include a recipe passed down from a relative, a NY Times article, a famous chef or a food blog. Then the testers hit the kitchen!
I was fortunate to tour on a day when there was lots of taste testing opportunities. While savoring my two spoonfuls of rice pudding and drawing my own conclusions, I suddenly felt transported to a critique in architecture school. “Have you thought about..?” “I like ______, but what about _____?” “This is what I was thinking when I tried this approach…” It really was a creative, constructive process, but the advantage of architecture school was obvious when I took my second helping of the rice pudding with coconut milk!
Imagine your favorite banana bread/cake with a cream cheese frosting marked by a walnut crunch. Enticing as that may be, now imagine the bananas were roasted, and the remaining juice from the roasting became a sweetener for the icing. That’s the America’s Test Kitchen difference, and it’s the difference between a long-lasting craving and an “oh yeah, I think I ate a piece of that cake.”
From a checkout lane magazine to the heart and soul of the publication, my many paths had taken me on quite the journey! The peek inside the well oiled machine [olive or canola? ;p] inspired me on many levels. I left eager to delve into a cookbook or two, fiddle with this and that and then review, critique, taste, review, critique, taste, repeat. Granted, you’ll still find me making substitutions with abandon, but I’ll be doing so with the utmost respect for those whose mission is perfection.