Cooking School

How One Home Cook Boosted Her Kitchen Creativity with the ATK Cooking School

Emily Brinjak found the instruction and encouragement she needed to start riffing on her favorite dishes.

Published Jan. 10, 2019.

In our Student Spotlight series, we feature 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 Emily Brinjak, a Los Angeles-based home cook and longtime member of the America’s Test Kitchen community. In fact, she used to borrow Cook’s Country magazine issues from her local library and make all the recipes she could before she had to return them.

When Emily joined the Cooking School, she found that building her basic skills didn’t make her more beholden to recipes—it actually allowed her to be more creative in the kitchen. Read on to learn about how she conquered souffles and breads, and now doesn't consider any recipe out of her league.

What inspired you to join the Cooking School?

I was inspired to join the School the minute I saw it was available! I have made so many ATK recipes and never had one not turn out great. I love the painstaking tests they run on all the featured recipes. They inspire confidence and I wanted all the instruction I can get from ATK.

Tell us about your cooking habits before joining the Cooking School.

I have been experimenting as a home cook for 10 plus years now, and have mostly just closely followed recipes that looked good, as well as something I thought I could tackle. I had a lot of success this way, and certainly enjoyed the cooking, but I felt a little confined to a written recipe, as opposed to taking risks and experimenting.

So what's been great about joining the Cooking School is that I've learned some really good basics that have become foundations for me, so I can branch out with adding flavors or creating my own spin on some dishes. Learning a good basic pan sauce, or searing a piece of meat or fish the right way has really opened my eyes to more opportunities to create.

Even a recipe that seems way out of your league is actually quite attainable if you're willing to learn, trust ATK and yourself, and try.

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

The most useful skill I've learned so far is bread-making. In the School’s videos, Bridget really breaks down how to get that surface tension happening in the dough, to make the magic happen. That crumb and that delicious, textured crust is no accident! She really explains it so well, and might even make it look a little bit easier than it is.

What have you learned that surprised you the most?

The thing that has surprised me the most thus far, is that even a recipe that seems way out of your league is actually quite attainable if you're willing to learn, trust ATK and yourself, and try. I've surprised myself a couple of notable times throughout this Cooking School adventure! For example, the cheese souffle—who knew I'd ever try something like that? It got a little too brown on the top, but it worked, and was exquisite to eat.

Emily Brinjak's souffle

What was your favorite course?

My favorite course was the Beef Burgundy recipe lesson. It was such a success, and I really got a feel for building flavors slowly through this braising technique. Talk about time versus budget. A relatively inexpensive cut of meat, some onion, and a lot of love can produce something extraordinary.

What is a recipe or technique that you were afraid to tackle before joining the Cooking School that you feel comfortable with now?

I was afraid to tackle baguettes! I have made other breads with success. I’ve made bread in my Vitamix and also in my KitchenAid, plus French loaves, Dutch oven loaves, and more. But Bridget's course really inspired me to try baguettes. I purchased a kit online that included all tools for bread-making and with Bridget's expertise and my passion for wanting to do it, I made baguettes happen. I can't wait to grow even more. It’s so satisfying to me.

Emily Brinjak baguette

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

The Cooking School has opened up my mind as to what is really possible in my own kitchen. I have definitely gotten braver and more objective about my cooking, and I'm more willing to go out on a limb with ATK's guidance. I've so far achieved many things I didn't think I could do before. And the practical skills aspects, such as knife skills, are very informative.

I would highly recommend the Cooking School to anyone wanting to become a better home cook! Just the fact that ATK takes such pains to make sure recipes "work" is stock enough to invest here in these tutorials. The instructors are passionate and personable. I so look forward to their comments and pointers every time I post a picture in a course I've completed. Money and time well spent here.

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What cooking skill do you want to improve upon? Let us know in the comments! And for more stories from our Cooking School students, check out these other Student Spotlights:

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