Mixing it up at ‘America’s Test Kitchen’
ST. LOUIS — After big changes at “America’s Test Kitchen,” another big change is afoot.
“Did you know we’re moving?” Jack Bishop, known to viewers as the maestro of the Tasting Lab, asked recently when he and “ATK” co-host Julia Collin Davison visited St. Louis.
The move won’t take the “Test Kitchen” team far, only into downtown Boston for new, more expansive headquarters in the Seaport district.
After 20 years in Brookline, Massachusetts, just across the border from Boston proper, “We’ve outgrown the space,” Bishop said. The test kitchen that used to be occupied by five or six cooks is now crowded with as many as 60 people.
Along with the move will come new sets for the “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Country” series.
But that change won’t be as dramatic as the one that saw Davison and Bridget Lancaster take over as hosts in Season 17, which debuted in January.
Both were familiar to audiences and to each other, although they were rarely on camera together before teaming up as hosts.
“We did some sample run-throughs, but Bridget and I are old friends,” Davison said. “We know each other really well, and we could crack jokes the whole time, although we don’t.”
Prepping for their new roles mainly required getting comfortable with switching between cooking and hosting. Both Davison and Lancaster, who previously only cooked on camera, now do both, trading off with the roles for different recipes.
Other times, one of them acts as host while another “Test Kitchen” cook demonstrates the preparation.
“America’s Test Kitchen” shoots 26 half-hour episodes in three weeks, and “Cook’s Country,” which returns in the fall, follows a similar schedule.
Episodes aren’t shot in order; for example, because of the necessary setup and lighting, the season’s Tasting Lab segments are shot one after another, threatening to reduce the taster to a queasy puddle by the end.
“It’s fun for me; it’s like a game show,” Davison said. “But olive oil was really tough.”
It was Lancaster, though, who got stuck sipping fish sauce, rallying after a moment in which it seemed she wouldn’t be able to go on.
Like everyone at America’s Test Kitchen (the name of the brand that encompasses the TV shows, Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, cookbooks and more), Collin Davison and Bishop have other jobs within the company.
Bishop, who was part of the team that launched Cook’s Illustrated in 1993, is chief creative officer of America’s Test Kitchen and leads work on the television shows, magazines, books, websites and online cooking school.
Collin Davison, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who started in 1999 at the bottom of the food chain, doing shopping, dishes and prep work, is executive editor of the book divison and is responsible for recipe development for all ATK cookbooks.
“Having done pretty much everything in the test kitchen gives me a really good perspective,” Davison said. “What we do really is tell the story of a recipe, which can take a tester 20 or 25 weeks to develop.”
What recipes they develop for the magazines and television “is dependent on the viewers, the subscribers and the book buyers,” Bishop said. “Tastes change, and what people were interested in 10 years ago isn’t always what they are interested in today.”
Healthy cooking is a hot topic, and recipes for fish and seafood rather than red meat, Bishop said.
“And we’re asked a lot about cooking gluten free,” Davison added. She has developed recipes for two gluten-free cookbooks (”How Can It Be Gluten Free?,” Volumes 1 and 2) and says the science behind gluten-free baking is fascinating. ATK even developed its own gluten-free flour blend.
With new faces joining both “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Country,” Davison and Lancaster remain familiar constants.
How comfortable they are became clear in an episode involving sticky buns, a baked good Davison insisted she could take or leave.
“It was the end of a shooting day, and we had watched what we ate all day,” Davison recalls. “When these things were done, I was being careful, pulling off a little piece, but they were so good, I ate more and more. Then I looked over at Bridget and she was really shoveling it in; she’d almost finished the whole thing and was thinking of having another one.”
They broke up laughing, but didn’t laugh enough to stop eating the sticky buns.