ATK at Home
A Day in the Life of Sara Zatopek, Assistant Editor of Special Issues
A behind-the-scenes look at how our special interest magazines are made—from home.
06-27-2020
Sara Zatopek

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.


 

As one of the two Assistant Editors on the Editorial Operations team, I spend most of each day working on America’s Test Kitchen’s special interest magazines—themed compilations of our favorite recipes, from Best-Ever Salads to Soups and Stews from Around the World. Read on to see how I stay on top of multiple deadlines while producing quality content, now from home.

8:00 AM – Up and at It

My commute to the office takes almost an hour, so I’m used to getting up early so that I can be on my way before the morning rush. Even though I’m working from home now, I like to stick to my routine. I wake up around 6:00 a.m., have a leisurely breakfast, scroll through the news, and still manage to be at my desk by 8:00 a.m.

I start by consulting my to-do list. I have the most brainpower in the morning, so I like to begin with the most challenging item. Today, that’s doing the first round of edits on the latest special issue: editing the included recipes and accompanying essays to make sure that they’re accurate, they adhere to the extensive in-house style guide, and, most basically but perhaps most importantly, they fit properly on the magazine page. 

Sara highlighting
Sara editing

Sara editing, highlighting, and updating—three key tasks to producing a special issue.

I flip back and forth and back and forth between InCopy (our editing software) and the style guide, deleting a word here, fixing a bad line break there, rewording a Why This Recipe Works paragraph to help save space on the page, and occasionally reaching out to the Test Cook who developed the recipe to confirm an ingredient amount in the ingredient list. Along the way I query the magazine designer about proper line spacing, font style, and adding sidebars. I make good time; this issue is already in pretty good shape, so I move swiftly from spread to spread and mentally calculate that I’ll finish “cuts and adds” in another three days.

11:00 AM – Tea Time

Three hours have passed, I’ve drained my mug of tea, and I’m starting to experience a bit of brain fatigue from scrutinizing all those recipes so closely. I save my work, grab my mug, and boil water for a fresh cup. While I wait for the kettle to start bellowing forth steam, I feed my sourdough starter

Feeding sourdough

Sara feeding her sourdough starter while her tea kettle comes to a boil.

I’m a sourdough novice—I acquired my starter when, just weeks before the office closed, Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Andrew Janjigian brought in some of his own starter to share. So far I’ve managed to keep it alive, and I’ve been producing regular batches of sourdough bread as well as sourdough discard crackers, pancakes, and muffins.

11:15 AM – Get Your Facts Straight!

On to the next task on my list: fact checking. Last year our team took on the responsibility of fact checking many of the ATK Reviews team's stories. Back at the office, this involved carefully reading over the story and rating criteria chart and then heading to the Reviews lab to verify the information. I would remeasure the height of a grater, use calipers to check the thickness of a tortilla, examine the packaging that a batch of skillets arrived in—whatever it took to cover all the bases.

At home, fact checking is more challenging. Instead of doing my hands-on work in the lab, I rely on internet sleuthing and refer to the meticulous notes of the ATK Reviews editors. Today I’m checking ATK Reviews’ Deputy Editor Kate Shannon’s new horseradish tasting and having a hard time verifying one of the obscure scientific facts. I email Kate and she sends me a link to her source—perfect: confirmed. And although I can’t physically check the labels of all eight horseradishes to confirm the product names and ingredient lists as I would in the lab, we come up with a solution: I email Staff Photographer Kevin White, who’s currently photographing the horseradishes at his home photo studio, and he sends me pictures of the front and back of each product’s label. Score.


Read Kate Shannon and Kevin White's accounts of their days at home!


 

12:30 PM – Go Take a Hike

It’s a beautiful day, so I eat my lunch quickly and spend most of my lunch break walking through my neighborhood and soaking in some sun.

1:30 PM – Everybody Check In

I return from my walk and get a few more minutes of work done before it’s time to sign in to Zoom for our weekly team check-in. The Editorial Operations team communicates via Slack and email most days, but a weekly face-to-face is a must for staying connected and on track, especially now that we haven’t seen each other in person in months.

The whole team consists of me; my fellow Assistant Editor extraordinaire Tess Berger; our boss Deputy Editor Megan Ginsberg; the company’s three meticulous Copy Editors, Rachel Schowalter, Christine Campbell, and April Poole; and Executive Managing Editor Todd Meier. We start by discussing workload and schedules. The Copy Editors are working their way through an issue of Cook’s Illustrated and have a deadline coming up; they ask if anyone can take on a few marketing newsletters to give them some breathing room. I have some time this afternoon, so I volunteer. We wrap up by talking about what we’ve been cooking lately: Tess made pork carnitas for dinner, and Megan’s been baking with her very own homemade sourdough starter.

2:00 PM – Copy(edit) That

Rachel sends me the marketing newsletters that need to be copyedited. There are three of them, but they’re straightforward and don’t take more than about 20 minutes each. It’s mostly a matter of checking links and recipe names, making nitpicky grammar fixes, and double-checking spelling.

3:00 PM – Puzzling It Out

As the day winds down, I turn my attention to one of my favorite responsibilities: creating a table of contents (TOC) for an upcoming special issue. I love essentially getting to determine the look and feel of a magazine. Although I always begin with a theme such as weeknight chicken dinners or summer desserts, choosing which 100 or so recipes from our vast archive will be included is what gives each issue its unique angle and identity. 

Even aside from picking the recipes, making a TOC is a bit like putting together a puzzle: choosing how to order the recipes and how best to fit in important supplemental recipes and sidebars, deciding how many pages of introductory information to include. I’m currently working on the TOC for The Perfect Pie, so I get to not only exercise my problem-solving skills but also look at dozens of mouthwatering pie photos.

Chocolate and Matcha Tart
Blackberry Pie
Sable Breton Tart

Three of the recipes and photos that made it into the Perfect Pie special issue: Chocolate, Matcha, and Pomegranate Tart; Chai Blackberry Pie; and Sablé Breton Tart with Cranberry Curd.

4:00 PM – That’s All for Now!

I’ve been at it since 8:00 a.m., so it’s time to call it a day. I check my email a final time, cross a few things off my to-do list and add a few more for tomorrow, and shut down InCopy. Done! 

Today, though, there’s one last item on my calendar . . .

4:30 PM – Sometimes You Wanna (Virtually) Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The team meeting earlier in the day was (almost) all business. Now it’s time for a little socializing; Tess has set up a team Zoom happy hour and everyone is showing off the baked goods they made for the occasion. It’s not quite the same as getting together in person—for one thing, we don’t all get to sample each other’s cooking as we used to do at our monthly team potlucks—but I’m not complaining. By the time we sign off I have several new recipes I want to look up and attempt to veganize, and I’m looking forward to taking another walk while it’s still light outside, vegging out with Netflix, and resting up for another day.