ATK at Home
A Day in the Life of Andrea Wawrzyn, Test Cook for ATK Kids
Even when working from home, this test cook is making recipes and plans to get more kids in the kitchen.
06-30-2020
Andrea Wawrzyn

After months of being closed, America’s Test Kitchen’s office in Boston is now open to a handful of employees at a time. So on any given day, the majority of the staff is still working from home, developing recipes, reviewing kitchen equipment, and creating magazines, cookbooks, photos, and videos that will help our community of home cooks excel in the kitchen. In this new series, we give you a look at a typical day—and in many cases, the home kitchens—of some of our staff.


 

On an average day, I spend most of my time in the Test Kitchen. As a Test Cook for the ATK Kids team, I spend my days developing recipes for cookbooks for kids and the kids subscription box service Young Chefs' Club. For the last few months, however, I've had to adapt my work to being in my home kitchen. In addition to figuring out how to work without multiple ovens and state-of-the-art equipment, I and the rest of the ATK Kids team have taken on new projects developing content that addresses people’s evolving needs at home during this unprecedented time, including a kitchen-focused curriculum for kids who are home from school and a kids workbook full of games, recipes, activities, and experiments. Here’s what a day in my life looks like now.

8:30 AM – A New Commute

My new work-from-home lifestyle has one definitive upside: I no longer have to commute. It also means that I can sleep in later than I would if I were going into the office—no complaints there. I get up, put on a pot of coffee, feed my cats, and get ready for my first meeting of the day. Since we can’t be together right now, our team has a lot of video meetings to keep in touch and stay aware of what everyone else is working on.

9:00 AM – Email Check and Recipe Prep

Andrea's office at home

Andrea's home office setup, including one of her coworkers.

I walk into my office and turn on my computer. I am lucky enough to have a dedicated office in my home. My husband and I live in a three-bedroom apartment, so we each have our own workspace, which has been a huge help with our mutual productivity in the last few months, because we both work from home full-time now. I check my email and look through some recipe editing notes I received from the ATK Kids team's Executive Food Editor, Suzannah McFerran. I have a full morning of meetings today and spend my time before hopping in getting my recipe edited and ready for testing this afternoon.

9:30 AM – A Meeting of the Minds

I log into Zoom for our morning recipe meeting. The kitchen team (myself, our Senior Editor, and Executive Food Editor) get together most mornings to discuss our progress on various projects we’re working on, the status of our current recipes, and what we plan on tackling that day. Today we use some of our time to talk about progress on the kids workbook, but dedicate most of the meeting to discussing recipes. We are currently working on a science-focused cookbook for kids as well as an upcoming Young Chefs' Club box dedicated to dumplings. We discuss next steps for the recipes we’re each working on and set up a time for a video “tasting” with the entire team later in the day.

10:00 AM – Young Chefs' Club Brainstorm

I sign off from one meeting and sign right into another, this one with the entire team to discuss the Young Chefs' Club. We meet once per week as a team to discuss progress on the current boxes we are working on and brainstorm ideas for future boxes. Today we do some brainstorming for an upcoming box all about breakfast! I’m particularly excited about possibly getting to work on recipes for homemade breakfast sausage and egg sandwiches for kids. We don’t make any final decisions on recipes yet, but come up with a whole bunch of exciting ideas that we will whittle down to our final choices at a later date.

11:00 AM – Class(room) Is In Session

My last meeting of the morning is with a few members of our team, including the Deputy Editor of Education, Kristin Sargianis, to discuss next week’s Kitchen Classroom content. Kitchen Classroom is a weekly kitchen-based curriculum for kids that includes recipes, hands-on experiments and activities to help kids learn through cooking while they’re out of school due to COVID-19. (We’ve already published 26 weeks’ worth of them!) We meet every week to discuss what the “learning moments” should be for each recipe or activity and any additional learning opportunities and supplementary information we can offer to kids and parents. At the end of the meeting we all choose which recipe or topic we would like to write about, and over the following week we will write out the curriculum, which is then edited and published for kids and parents on our website. This week I’ll be writing about our Chocolate Snack Cake recipe and challenging kids to think about how to portion it evenly using their math skills!

12:00 PM – Bike Break for Lobster

Andrea and her cat Gozer
Alive and Kicking lobsters

All done with meetings just in time for lunch. It’s a beautiful day outside, so I give my trusty companion Gozer some pets on our porch, then I decide to take a quick bike ride through our neighborhood and grab some lobster sandwiches from a local shop. I don one of the masks my fellow Test Cook, Afton Cyrus, made for our team (it’s printed with tiny lemons!) and hop on my bike. It’s nice to have a break and get outside during the day, and being home means I can support some of the local businesses in my area. Plus, who doesn’t like lobster for lunch?

1:00 PM – Chicken Nuggets Breading Test

Time to put on my apron and get in the kitchen! I’m working on a recipe for chicken nuggets for an upcoming cookbook. Our team has never done a recipe for chicken nuggets for kids before, so I’m in new territory, but there are a few adult recipes for chicken nuggets at the company that I look to for a starting point. Today I will be testing slightly adapted versions of two existing recipes. Chicken nuggets are typically deep fried, which is too dangerous for a kid to do, so I am trying out 2 different breadings in the oven. 

Developing recipes from home has many challenges. Not having access to the Test Kitchen with all of its equipment (and multiple ovens and stovetops) has forced us to approach testing differently, and it’s often slower. Instead of cooking two batches of nuggets at the same time in two ovens, I’ll have to cook a half batch of each on the same sheet tray in my kitchen’s one oven. Testing in my own kitchen has advantages however, including helping me to think more critically about things like how much equipment a recipe calls for, and use of counter-space.

Chicken nuggets testing

From left: Testing coatings for chicken nuggets, and cross-testing Texas Breakfast Tacos for an upcoming Young Chefs' Club box.

3:00 PM – Virtual “Tasting” Time

I’m all done with both batches of nuggets and it’s time for a tasting. When we’re in the Test Kitchen we call our team to the kitchen for tastings multiple times per day. We gather together around a table and taste the current version of a recipe, discuss what did and did not work and next steps. Since we’re all separated now, we had to come up with a different way to approach tastings.

Today we are having a scheduled “video tasting” meeting where the team all joins a video call. I talk about the recipe and show them video and pictures of the process and results. Since I’m the only one who can actually taste the food, I ultimately have to make the decision of whether the test was successful or not. Once I feel confident in the recipe, I will pass it on to the rest of the kitchen members of my team to test in their home kitchens. Sometimes recipes will go to other team members and come back to me for further testing, and sometimes we move them on to final recipe tests, where we invite the non-kitchen members of our team to try recipes at home and tell us what they think.

4:00 PM – Getting Down and Dirty

Andrea grabbing herbs for dinner

After my tasting comes my least favorite part of the day: clean up. One downside to testing recipes from home is the enormous amount of dishes and mess it creates. In the Test Kitchen we are lucky enough to have a team of kitchen assistants who wash all of our testing dishes for us. At home I have to do it for myself, and I don’t have a dishwasher, so I have to roll up my sleeves and do it all by hand.

Once I’m done I spend the remainder of the day entering my notes from the recipe test and tasting, and updating my recipe document with a new version for me to test tomorrow. Now it’s the end of the day and I head out on to my little deck to tend to my tiny garden and grab some herbs for dinner!