An Evening with America’s Test Kitchen

This week, Toby and I had the chance to go to see a show put on by Christopher Kimbell and America’s Test Kitchen, held at George Washington University. Our dear friend, Joan, was visiting us and kindly offered to watch our little one, so we made a night of it with a quick dinner beforehand.

We tried out Beefsteak, the new *mostly* vegetarian eatery by local celebrity chef Jose Andres. The style of the place is similar to Chipotle, where you pick all of your ingredients behind a counter and add on sauces to make your meal. Almost all of the offerings are vegetarian, with the exception of chicken sausage and salt-cured salmon. I opted for a handful of several vegetables, which are chopped perfectly so to cook at the same rate when placed in the individual boiling pots. Then you pick a grain, sauce, dressing and fresh toppings. The thing is, the ingredients are all top notch, so its up to you to pick the right combination. I kind of switched gears halfway through my selection and chose bulger, garlic yogurt sauce and chickpeas, looking for a Mediterranean vibe, but then the soy ginger dressing sounded great so added that. In the end, the flavors all worked for me and the veggies were perfectly cooked, despite picking 4-5 different types of veggies. Toby went with one of their kale options on their favorites menu and really liked his as well. It was a great, and delicious, way to eat lots of veggies and healthy grains! We’d definitely try it again, but may think twice about going during the dinner rush on a collage campus!

On to the show, which turned out great! It lasted about 2 hours and was hosted by Christopher Kimbell, with some experiments done by one of the magazine’s editors. For those of you not familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, they run two fabulous cooking shows on PBS, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, and publish the Cook’s Illustrated magazine. They offer recipes, kitchen equipment reviews, and ingredient taste testing advice for home cooks. When Toby and I got married, we trusted their advice so much we used their equipment reviews to register for all of the kitchen items wanted from Amazon. And I can’t think of anything that hasn’t worked out great for us so they were pretty spot on.

The show moved at a pretty brisk pace, and included video segments on outtakes from the show, science demonstrations on how gluten molecules interact and how your taste buds work, letters from readers, a culinary trivia contest and an insider look at how their operation works.

Some fun facts about their operation is that their annual grocery bill is $500,000! When developing a new recipe, such as chocolate cake, they find 5 recipes to make that are very different from one another in terms of ingredients and preparation and taste those recipes to determine what they like and don’t like about them. Then they perfect the recipe over the course of 40-60 attempts (I see where that high grocery bill comes from). Then each of the final recipes gets sent out to a panel of home cooks and if less than 80% of them would make it again, then they take the recipe back to the test kitchen to work on again. They replace all of their pots and pans each year (this information was shared in response to a question from an audience member about what they use to keep their pans looking so nice – if only we could all be so lucky!)

There was quite a bit of discussion and a few demonstrations on the science of food. One interesting fact was they found that higher fat foods often need more salt. They did tastings with high fat foods, such as a burger with 80% ground beef/20% fat and chicken breast, which is relatively low in fat, and tasters found that the higher fat foods needed more salt to round out the flavors. Just be careful about adding too much salt!

Christopher Kimbell also fielded a question on why they omit nutritional analysis for each of their recipes. He felt that if you take the time to make something from scratch with good quality ingredients and not use a lot of processed food, you don’t need to count calories or fat. While I understand his view point and share many of his feelings about home cooking versus convenient, packaged food, I support the transparency that a nutritional analysis provides, particularly as it relates to fat, sodium and sugar content of their recipes, all of which Americans consume way too much.

All in all, it was a great night out and if “An Evening with America’s Test Kitchen” comes to your city, I’d definitely recommend getting tickets. It was an informative, funny, entertaining evening talking about food, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

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