America’s Test Kitchen Tour

Last Monday I fled work nice and early to go on a tour of America’s Test Kitchen. All of this fell into place with the help of Babette from Bakespace and by RSVP-ing for Techmunch. I was so happy to attend Techmunch that getting to ATK was a fantastic added bonus. So I arrived at a nondescript building, took a flight of stairs up and went on a wonderful tour.

Steph, the fabulous tour guide started off by taking us from the lobby to the library area. This area has several large bookcases that houses the larges private cookbook collection. Steph explained that they use these 4,000ish cookbooks for recipes research and development. The long table in front of the bookcases is for meetings, as well as for when they do taste tests. ATK will lay out 5 products, from canned tomatoes to chocolate, for review. Each taste tester takes this very seriously and accurately fills out questionnaires regarding to help determine which is the best.

 

Wow, I’d love to be able to get a chance to flip through this delectable series one day.

(ATK PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM REQUESTED I REMOVE THIS PHOTO 8.1.12)

Our next stop was the photo studio. We were lucky to see them shooting some cupcakes. While we observed, they switched out some cupcakes and arranged them to get some better shots. (ATK PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM REQUESTED I REMOVE THE LAST TO SENTENCES OF THIS PARAGRAPH 8.1.12)

(ATK PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM REQUESTED I REMOVE THIS PHOTO 8.1.12)

(ATK PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM REQUESTED I REMOVE THIS PHOTO 8.1.12)

 

Directly next to the photo studio is a prop room that had my knees getting weak. So many napkins and table cloths! At the entrance of the prop room, there was an open cabinet that held a lot of peices of boards of various finishes. The photo studio is not large enough to house tables of various finishes, so this allow them to get various setting. Plus, they can photograph a picnic in the winter by just using a distressed piece of board.

 

At this point, Steph explained that the Slow Cooker Revolution Cookbook has been one of their best selling books. She explained that they had to build a special wall for their testing set up. There needed to be several (12+) slow cookers running at once to be able to handle all the testing that was required for the book. At kind of electrical load required a new temporary wall of outlets and shelves for the slow cookers to be set up.

 

Wow this rack puts my 2 cutting boards to shame! At various racks throughout the area, there are pots, pans, and dishes that are labeled for everyday use or for TV use. They don’t want the stuff on TV to appeared so banged up so there are doubles for everything.

We then headed into the small kitchen.  Directly behind me was a full wall of wall ovens. They were hard at work preparing various meals. When the TV is shooting, the kitchen is where all the prep occurs that is brought into the adjacent large kitchen.

After exiting the small kitchen, we stood along side a series of racks that had the for use/for TV pots and pans so that we could hear about the pantry that ATK has. There are staff members that do all the shopping for everyone. They set out with shopping lists and only use brands, or just store generics, that people all over can buy. For example, they can’t shop at Trader Joe’s since that is not a national chain. They store flour and sugar in trash barrels since they use such large quantities. 

The large kitchen was, in fact, very large. There are various stations set up for people to work at. The equipment used in there, and in the small kitchen, are things that homeowners can buy. The only commercial items in ATK is a dishwasher and a large walk in refrigerator. The purpose of the residential equipment is that is the exact things that the people using the website, magazines, and cookbooks will be using.

Steph explained that the kitchen is shut down for only 3 weeks a year for the TV show shooting. They can’t stop testing for any longer than that or they would fall behind, and they can’t just shoot regularly because of all the TV equipment involved in the process.

I think all of our mouths were watering watching her make these peanut butter sandwich cookies!

We existed the large kitchen at the end to walk down a hall which lead to this room. When testing is occuring, this is filled with racks of dishes. When the TV show is taping, the room is cleared out to make a space for the command center. This is where the product team sits while the filming occurs. They are reviewing the footage as it is occurring and providing feedback, like if the talking is loud enough or if they are not focused on the camera.

There also is a refrigerator in there for left over tested recipes to be taken home. I think this would be delightful. I would love to sneak in and grab some cake, chicken, or whatever may be on hand to take home with me.

All the dishes are wrapped in plastic wrap to keep them clean and protect them from chipping each other.

The last stop was on the 2nd floor of ATK. We sat at a large table and Steph explained that this is where Chris Kimball and other editors met to discuss epsidoes, recipes, books, and the magazines. Obviously, Chris sits at the head of the table.

A huge thank you to Steph for organizing this fantastic tour. I learned so much about the ATK family and how they test recipes and produce the TV show. I only began to touch on the things that Steph told us about. It really was an amazing, enlightening experience.

Plus, to make a great time even better, I was given issues of Cooks Illustrated, Cooks Country, and  The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook. I know I will be using it that amazing cookbook in the future.

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