On Monday, I had the chance pop up to Boston with my daughter Cate, my niece Abby and my sister-in-law Jessica for a tour of America’s Test Kitchen. Yes, the test kitchen! It was great fun to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the kitchens and Cate has decided that she wants to work there when she grows up (Jess and I are in the same boat!).
First off, the location is totally unmarked…we felt like Harry Potter at King’s Cross Station (thanks for that awesome analogy, Steph!). Everyone was super friendly and it looked like a totally normal office. Well, a totally normal office buried in cookbooks and kitchen equipment.
The first stop on our tour: the library.
They have over 4,000 cookbooks in the library, which is ever evolving and growing. The library has its own color-coded system and is pretty amazing. In the center of the library is a huge table, which is where all the taste testing happens. That table is why I want to work there. You’re sitting at your desk working when suddenly there is a call to test something. Trying out food is part of your job. Does it get better than that? Steph told us there has to be at least 21 people in a taste test for it to be legit. I would happily volunteer!
We saw a photo shoot in action and I was supremely jealous of their assortment of boards and wood doors they use for shoots.
Then it was on to the kitchens! There are two kitchens – a smaller one (which has about a million ovens, so it’s not really all that small) and a big one. The big one is THE kitchen, the one where they film the show. They film an entire season of the show in just three weeks in the spring. When filming is happening, all the prep work happens in the small kitchen while the main kitchen remains pristine for the cameras.
The kitchens are all abuzz with test cooks working on various recipes and projects. There is a post-it note system, so cooks can mark the equipment they are using, and there is kitchen gear galore everywhere you look. Most of the cooks began as interns and have culinary school backgrounds.
I had the chance to chat with test cook Dan for a bit about what he was working on that morning. They had cooked up a bunch of turkey breasts and were going to inject them with various amounts of sodium to determine the perfect level of saltiness in turkey. It was pretty awesome that there was a pile of needles among Dan’s equipment. Cooking doesn’t get much more precise (or science nerdy!) than that! Dan said with the needles things had officially entered the realm of weird. Love it.
Here is a peak into the pantry.
Steph told us that there are two grocery shoppers for the kitchens and that they spend over $500,000 per year on groceries. That is a lot of cooking! She also said they mostly shop at regular supermarkets so they are sure to get ingredients that are readily available to people all over the country. In fact, all the equipment and food that is used in the test kitchens is home kitchen sized. The only pieces of equipment that are industrial are the hoods in the kitchen, the fridge and the dishwasher, but everything else is what any of us might buy or use at home.
Owen was not happy that I passed him off to Cate to take a photo of the scores and scores of organized-by-color dishes.
If I were to choose one word to describe the folks at America’s Test Kitchen it would be resourceful. I cannot believe what they produce with just 120 employees…8-12 cookbooks per year, 2 magazines, 2 television shows, a radio show…the list goes on and on. It blows me away the amount of quality work they produce in that four-story building in Brookline, MA. Plus, see where those cars are parked?
That’s the alley behind the building, which also happens to be where they film all the grilling segments for the show. They just clear the cars out and turn it into a studio. Resourceful, no?
We had a great time learning all about the test kitchens and even got to meet Christopher Kimball as we were leaving! Yes, he’s very tall and, yes, he was wearing a bow tie!
To end the trip we ate lunch at Cutty’s in Brookline, a cafe started by a test cook. And that lunch was mmm mmm good, of COURSE.
A warm and sincere THANK YOU to our friends at America’s Test Kitchen for a great morning!
And if you haven’t checked out this infographic on how a recipe is developed by America’s Test Kitchen, you have to click here and check it out. It’s fascinating and pretty much explains why their recipes always come out so wonderfully!