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Christopher Kimball, Editor of America's Best Lost Recipes, Answers Our Questions

And Now For a Few Words With Christopher Kimball

The folks behind America's Test Kitchen have just released a new book called America's Best Lost Recipes. It's a collection of heirloom recipes that could have easily gone missing forever if it wasn't for this collection.

Recently we had a chance to ask editor Christopher Kimball — the one with the bow tie — a few questions. He chatted about the new book, what goes on at the test kitchen, and why you should quit trying to be a chef, and start trying to be a great cook instead. Here's what he had to say:

YumSugar: What brought about the Lost Recipes collection?

Christopher Kimball: I am a huge fan of old cookbooks and old recipes but have wondered for years where all of these great old recipes went. But I wasn't interested in recipes that were purely historical or anthropological in nature — I wanted tried-and-true recipes that still resonated today. That is, one would really want to make and eat them. So, we started with a nationwide recipe contest for "lost" recipes and received 2,800 responses, selected 300 that seemed the most interesting, cooked them all, and finally whittled the list down to 121 recipes that were interesting, delicious, and also still, I hope, relevant for modern cooks.

YS: What was the most unexpected thing to come out of this collection?
CK: Oh, all of those cooking techniques that I had never heard of before. Baking a pound cake in an oven that is cold when you put the pan in. Or, making a chocolate cake with no eggs, milk, or butter. Or, and this was our winning recipe, putting peeled peaches around a pie plate, placing an upside down ramekin in the middle, drizzling a caramel sauce over them, topping with pie pastry, baking, and then, when baked, turning the whole thing upside down and all the juices have been sucked up into the ramekin. Now there is a magic trick for you!

To read the rest of part one of our interview with Chris,

YS: How would you explain Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen to our readers who are just learning about it?
CK: That's easy. We are a 3,000-square-foot test kitchen just outside of Boston that employees 35 full-time test cooks (almost 100 people total). Recipes are researched, a few sample versions are made and tasted, we construct our own recipe, and then we make it over and over again until we like it — like it a lot. In some cases, we have made a recipe over 100 times (our Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake comes to mind). We made over 1,000 pounds of fudge and never published the recipe in Cook's because it was not foolproof.

We publish two magazines — Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country — and we film the public television show, America's Test Kitchen, on the premises. We are also launching a new show on public television next summer based on Cook's Country magazine. It was filmed in Vermont in a house that was renovated specifically for Cook's Country.

YS: Could you explain more about your testing procedure? What does it take for you to publish a recipe?

CK: Each round of tests involves a blind tasting so we do not know which recipe is which. Each round focuses on one set of variables — cake flour versus all-purpose for example. Once we get that right, we move on to the next set of issues. Once a recipe is perfected, it is sent out to a former editor in San Francisco who makes it for her friends and gives us a fresh perspective. Then it is sent to 5,000 subscribers. About 150 to 200 of them will make it in the first week, and we use those ratings to continue revising the recipe. We need 80 percent of those surveyed to want to make the recipe again. If the ratio falls much below that, we go back to the drawing board. The whole process can take up to two months. Of course, not every recipe goes through this level of scrutiny. Here, I am talking about the recipes
that we publish in Cook's Illustrated.

YS: Who gets the final say on whether or not something is "finished"?
CK: A group of us review the reader surveys and taste the food to determine whether it is done or not. This includes our test kitchen director, our editorial director, two or three other editors, and then myself on a more cursory level near the end of the process.

Tomorrow Chris answers our questions about gourmet cooking, the difference between home chefs and home cooks, and we also learn about his FOUR freezers. Be sure to check back!

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