Years ago while in culinary school, I spent a summer interning at Food & Wine. Food writing was my dream future career and I was ecstatic to spend a good part of my work days in their test kitchen. Until this week, even after many years of working in the food world on both the cooking and writing sides, it had been the only test kitchen of a major publication that I had seen.
So I was pretty thrilled to join a behind-the-scenes tour that Cookbook Create was organizing for food bloggers in the NY area. Yesterday, a big group of us visited the offices and test kitchens of Bon Appetit, The Daily Meal, and Food52, who graciously hosted us and prepared samples of recipes they've tested for publication. Of course, in addition to peeking inside the beautiful kitchens, it was a great way to learn about how the different publications operate.
Our first stop was Bon Appetit, where we met food editor Dawn Perry, web editor Matt Gross, editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, and Restaurant & Drinks editor Andrew Knowlton. The test kitchen was kind of an eye-opener. They had eight small galley kitchens they called "bays", each limited in size and equipment to mimic the average home kitchen. No extra-fancy equipment here; instead of a Vitamix they would use a regular blender to test out recipes, for instance. Microwaves, toasters, four-burner stoves. It was great seeing how the recipes are tested in kitchens not much bigger than my own, with limited counter space.
Of course, there was also a larger demo kitchen, with a high-powered stove and a huge stainless steel fridge. There we snacked on tasty mashed pea crostini and deviled eggs while listening to more about how Bon Appetit ran.
Like most monthly print publications, they worked on an editorial calendar many months out. Which means that in the middle of summer, they're testing turkey and mashed potato recipes for Thanksgiving. Each recipe is tested anywhere from 3 to 6 times. And they source the vast majority of their ingredients from FreshDirect, Citarella, Chelsea Market, Whole Foods, and the Union Square Greenmarket.
One of the questions posed to Andrew Knowlton was what were his top picks for high- and low-end restaurants right now. High end: Le Bernardin. Low end: a new Thai restaurant in Nolita called Uncle Boons, for their khao soi and roasted chicken and banana blossom salad. (Mental note: new restaurant to add to the must-try list.)
From the Condé Nast building, we subway'ed down to The Daily Meal's office just south of Madison Square Park.
The Daily Meal just unveiled their new test kitchen two weeks ago and have already had Jacques Torres and David Burke, among other chefs, visit and demo recipes there. The online publication is currently headed by Colman Andrews, who was previously at Saveur. In a sharp contrast to Bon Appétit, The Daily Meal publishes between 250 to 300 pieces of content a week, and the aim of the new kitchen is that they can test more recipes in-house. The kitchen is outfitted with appliances and tools from sponsors, such as an electric stovetop from KitchenAid.
This fava bean and spinach sauté we tried (with vino) was perfect for yesterday's muggy weather.
If I ever get a chance to outfit my own kitchen like this, a fridge like theirs would be one of the first items on the list. The wall decal chalkboard would also be a great addition (and more suited to my budget right now!)
Our last stop was the Food52 office, right next to Madison Square Garden. The start-up, founded by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, has been at this location since February, after moving from General Assembly across town. It's their first non-shared space, and from the looks of it, they've done a fantastic job with the decor.
I mean, look at that.
I am in love with their wooden shelves. Both out in the front seating area and in the back at their test kitchen.
Their gorgeous kitchen is somewhere I could while away hours cooking, experimenting, or heck, just snacking. Food52 crowdsources their recipes but retests them in their own kitchen and takes new photos. And it helps that here, with big windows and a lot of space, there is such great lighting for photographs. (Before, the photos were all taken from Amanda's house in Brooklyn.)
We tried a delicious chilled pea soup with cream and pickled ramps. Another mental note: buy more ramps on the way home and make this soon.
One of the best parts of the tour was spending the day with a great group of food bloggers, photographers, and ladies from start-ups in the NY area (including one blogger who came all the way from from D.C.!): Alejandra from Always Order Dessert; Amie from The Healthy Apple; Caroline from Taste Love & Nourish; Carrie from Poet in the Pantry; Heidi from Bklyn Allergy Mom; Jen from Savory & Simple; Kimberly from Foodie City Mom; Lisa from Nut Case Crunch; Mary Frances from Love the Secret Ingredient; Melinda from Kitchen Tested, Sloane from Allergic Girl; Daina from The Hungry Fan; Jen from Tumblr; Clay from UltraClay; and last but not least, Anna, Leiti, and Emily from Cookbook Create.
The other best part was just being able to peak behind the curtains of three of the largest and most notable food publishers in print and online. Sometimes recipes are tested in gorgeous open spaces, other times they're being done in narrow kitchens very similar to my own.
And I came home with plenty of ideas of not only improving not only my own workspace but also for cooking and sharing content with the other likeminded food-obsessed folks.