I was in Boston recently and got a chance to tour the offices of America’s Test Kitchen. It was utterly thrilling! At the time we visited most of the staff were up in Vermont filming episodes of Cook’s Country so the upshot was that instead of feeling hopelessly in the way my group got a chance to have a nice look around. Huge thanks to Steph for arranging and giving us the tour, it was an excellent way to start our trip.
We got to peek at their library of cookbooks and recipe related publications and learned that they have their own classification system. And they do have a full set of Modernist Cooking which I was too afraid to touch without gloves. (This being the second time I was too timid to grab these books makes me all that much more likely to carry my own cotton and/or latex gloves just in case I should encounter the set again.) We also got a brief look into their photo studio which is actually a corner room that gets fantastic light. Their room was full of bounces, which makes a northern-dweller like me feel better about what lengths I’ll to through to get a half way decent photo on dim days.
The offices and studio are in an old building and space is limited so shelves holding cookware are everywhere. Everything is organized and labeled and I desperately envy their collection of All-Clad. Know what? They do use paper plates to separate frying pans and plates when they are stored, just like the tip in the magazines.
They have two kitchens, the larger one you see during the show and a smaller one where recipes are developed. They have walls of ovens and Kitchenaid mixers and storerooms full of the recommended appliances, which they keep for two years in case they need to do some follow up testing with them.
They use gas stoves for recipe development but somewhere, hidden under a countertop, is an electric stove that they test all recipes on to make sure people with electric stoves (including myself) will have the same results.
The show is underwritten by certain brands so they are unable to test and recommend those brands’s products. On the other side they cannot accept underwriting from companies whose products they test and will potentially recommend, which is why you won’t see underwriting from cookware brands you might know and love yourself. They purchase all the equipment they test and never accept freebies.
The larger kitchen looks just like you see on the show but overhead are lights and cords, and when they are filming cameras and sound equipment are crammed all around one counter.
When you see people working in the background of filmed segments they really are cooking, but are doing so more slowly and quietly they they would normally. If they need activity to fill in the background beyond what would normally be going on, we were told, you can often see interns making batches upon batches of cookies.
One of the most delightful things we learned was that all their grilling is done in the alley outside the building. They test things on multiple grills (and we saw at least 20 grills while we were there) so if anything is being slow cooked or smoked there will always be somebody out there.
If you turn around you are looking at a few parking spaces which is where they film back yard segments. This is why they thank their neighbors at the end of each episode. They also send over cookies, which have got to be the very best thank you cookies ever. Gosh I wish I was their neighbors.
One of the most popular places to be at the end of the working day is peeking inside the leftovers fridge where all the food made that day is portioned and available to be taken home by employees. (Curse our 10 a.m. visiting time.)
This oven right here is the one you see Bridget using in the show. Which: Eeeee! I have seen so many perfectly finished things emerging from this oven.
The Wall of Awesome is updated each week with the good stuff people blog and tweet about. This photo was taken really early in the week and I can only imagine what it looks like by Friday. I have to admit I was inspired to know that the people there (who work six or more months in advance) could see the ecstatic results of what they do as they speed past on their way to making cranberry sauce in, say, June. So, cheers to America’s Test Kitchen! I’m amazed at how much quality you pack into such a small space. Here is to many more years of the test kitchen on public television!