Cooking School

Conquering Fears and Embracing Mistakes: One Cooking School Student's Journey From Uninspired to Adventurous Home Cook

An attempt to get out of a cooking rut led to a newfound passion (and lots of social media posts!).

Published Mar. 28, 2018.

In our new Student Spotlight series, we'll be featuring some of the star students who have used the America's Test Kitchen Cooking School to improve their cooking confidence. The School welcomes all types of cooks—from the true novice to the impressively experienced—into our digital test kitchen, where they’re greeted by familiar faces in one-of-a-kind videos and interactive exercises that go beyond the recipe.


America's Test Kitchen Cooking School is filled with passionate home cooks, and there’s nothing we enjoy more than learning about their cooking journeys. Today we’re spotlighting Michael Piepoli, a yoga studio owner from Alexandria, VA, who became a student in the summer of 2017.

Michael joined the Cooking School as a way to get out of a cooking rut. A couple of years earlier, in an effort to eat more healthfully, he started preparing more of his meals at home, where he could have more control over the ingredients and cooking methods. He focused on a handful of recipes, which he would turn to over and over (and over) again. Eventually, he was ready to add more dishes and techniques to his repertoire. That’s where the Cooking School came in. Armed with the desire to further improve his cooking skills, Michael joined the School and "hasn’t cooked the same recipe twice."

Michael's frequent gallery posts in the School—photos of dishes he's prepared (like the one below, from January), along with enthusiastic descriptions of his successes and missteps—caught our eyes, and we knew we wanted to learn more about how the School has helped him reach his cooking goals.


Michael gallery post and quote

What inspired you to join the Cooking School?

Since I had had begun posting more of my earlier cooking creations on social media, I started noticing my friend’s cooking posts more and more. I’m sure they had always been there, but you know how when you start to take an interest in something new and exciting you notice the world a bit differently? A friend of mine posted a picture of an America's Test Kitchen cookbook on social media. I went to the website and signed up for the multi-site membership and quickly found myself clicking around exploring all of the videos, equipment reviews, and eventually the Cooking School.

Tell us a little bit about how your cooking habits have changed since you joined the School.

After taking a few of the basic lessons online when I had some downtime at home, I quickly began to notice that I started shopping smarter. I am understanding how important it is to start with the best recommended ingredients and cookware for each recipe so that my time spent planning and preparing pays off with a deeply satisfying home-cooked meal. Now, I’m more well-equipped with a toolbelt of knowledge, so that even in situations when I can’t find the exact ingredients that I need at the store—which is inevitable, it happens—I’m still able to use the knowledge I’ve gained from the cooking courses to pull off a tasty meal!

I’ve started to invite friends over more frequently for dinner, and if I happen to bake a cake then my neighbors know they’ll get to try a slice.

What’s been the most useful skill you’ve learned?

Brining or salting chicken and meat, and knowing what methods are appropriate for the ingredients you buy. It’s such a simple step that helps creates a ton of flavor. The Cooking School helped me understand what to look for on food labels so I can season what I buy appropriately at home.

What is a recipe or technique that you were afraid to tackle that you feel comfortable with now?

Baking. Any of it. Bread, cake, cookies, pies. I used to be completely intimidated and uninterested because I lacked the know-how.

What have you learned from the School that surprised you the most?

How important it is to fail. While the methods and recipes offered through the Cooking School are ridiculously foolproof, I’m a human being and I’m going to eventually mess something up. At best, I may have missed catching a kitchen timer which led to slightly overcooked chicken thighs, or I accidentally used baking powder instead of baking soda while mixing the batter for a loaf of banana bread. At worst, I burned and completely dried out the Thanksgiving turkey because I misread the temperature setting on the oven. My family is always very supportive and they still eat every bite with a smile on their face. What’s important is that I zoom the camera out and take a look at how far I’ve come with the Cooking School in such a short period of time.

A few years ago the idea of planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking a meal felt like an arduous and uninteresting task. Now, I want to cook every day!

What’s been your favorite class?

The first one I took: Cook It in Cast Iron. Who doesn’t want to make perfect sizzling thick-cut steaks, baked ziti with charred tomatoes, or an unconventional (but amazing) blueberry pie? Needless to say I was hooked and wanted to take more courses right from the get-go.

Have you shown off your new cooking skills? If so, how?

Let’s just say my friends and family are all benefiting from my time spent online and in my kitchen with the Cooking School. I’ve started to invite friends over more frequently for dinner, and if I happen to bake a cake then my neighbors know they’ll get to try a slice. I’m more confident in my cooking that I’ve been posting more and more on social media. The positive affirmations I receive keep me going! If anyone happens to be in the kitchen when I’m chopping an onion, they’ll stop what they're doing to watch me do it!

How has the Cooking School experience changed the way you think about food or cooking?

Cooking is fun! A few years ago the idea of planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking a meal felt like an arduous and uninteresting task. Now, I want to cook every day! There aren’t enough days in the week (or enough room in my belly) to cook all of the things I want to cook.


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Join thousands of other home cooks like Michael and see for yourself what the Cooking School has to offer. More than 200 how-to videos, 5,000 up-close photos, a student photo gallery, and convenient buying guides await your arrival—and you can access everything on any device (start on your phone, pick up where you left off on your tablet).  
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What cooking skill do you want to improve upon? Let us know in the comments! And to hear more about our students' cooking experiences, check out these stories:

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