ATK at Home
A Day In the Life of Meri Lippard, Test Kitchen Manager
The Test Kitchen might be closed, but the grocery ordering continues.
Meri Lippard

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 Test Kitchen Manager, I spend my days working with the rest of the Kitchen Operations team on a variety of projects, including supporting a kitchen staff of more than 40 test cooks and managing all of America’s Test Kitchen’s in-house special events. I also oversee one of the biggest aspects of America’s Test Kitchen’s day-to-day recipe development, photo and video shoots, and TV filming: the ingredient ordering process. These responsibilities are as important as ever now that our kitchen staff is working from home. Here’s what a day in my work-from-home life looks like.

8:00 AM – Caffeine Time

I start every morning at home like I do in the office: with several cups of coffee. Our winning coffee maker from Technivorm is the best purchase I have ever made, and the coffee keeps me focused and caffeinated for the day! I’m also a big fan of making homemade iced coffee, which I do almost every day.

9:00 AM – Meeting of the Minds

Desk setup

Meri's work station at home, where all the shopping magic happens.

Since America’s Test Kitchen’s office closed in mid-March, the official start to my day has been the morning meeting with the rest of the Kitchen Ops team to discuss all of our priorities and any updates we may have for one another. It gives us time to strategize for the day, touch base if we are collaborating on a project, or just simply connect with one another about what we are working on independently. We also make time to talk about what we made for dinner the night before or the latest binge-worthy TV shows we’re all watching. It’s a nice substitute for the in-person chats we’d have if we were in the office.

10:00 AM – TV Time

A large portion of my day is consumed by preparing for filming our upcoming TV shows. I create and build shopping lists, plans, and details. Typically it takes our team months of planning to execute all details of filming, and because of COVID-19, we’ve had to rethink a lot of the schedule.

11:00 AM – Shopping Is Serious Business

As the manager of our ingredient shopping systems, I’m always looking to improve our internal ordering systems for members of my team and for test cooks. With that in mind, my team is working on what we call “Shopping List 2.0,” a master reference list of any ingredient we may ever call for in a recipe, for a photo shoot or video shoot, etc. This list is comprised of more than 3,000 items (!). It also includes any recipe specs we’ve called for in the past, like specifying that an apple weigh between 6 and 8 ounces or a beef strip steak measure 1½ inches thick. I often reference my ATK library of cookbooks in my pantry to double-check recipe specs.

Meri in her pantry

Meri standing in her pantry, where she keeps her dry goods and her library of ATK books.

Our goal is to have all those details in one place, plus other information relevant to getting that item in-house: how we may go about ordering it, the purveyor we can rely on to provide it, if there’s a particular season the item is only available during. This vast scope of information will help us streamline our daily ingredient inquiries and make it more efficient to find the answers.

12:00 PM – Daily Stretch

Working from home poses challenges, but it also brings up really great and valuable work-life balance habits, including taking a break in the middle of the day to move around after significant stretches of desk work in front of my computer. The Kitchen Operations makes it a team effort: We take 30 minutes in the middle of the day and all take walks around our neighborhoods or do a yoga class or stretch class together.

1:00 PM – Did Someone Say Turkey?

One of the fun adventures of my job—especially over the last few months—is having to look outside of the box to find ingredients that our typical grocery stores are out of. Recently, my mission has been tracking down bone-in skin-on turkey thighs turkey thighs for a photo shoot for an upcoming turkey confit recipe for Cook’s Illustrated. We need them for a photo shoot, but the pandemic, a meat shortage, and the time of year are making them scarce.

Fortunately, everyone on the Kitchen Ops team is a natural problem-solver. We strive to meet a challenge and don’t stop until it’s resolved. We started our turkey thigh hunt three weeks ago. It took a team of three of us calling every single vendor and store we could think of in Massachusetts. Several turkey conversations later, we found a source, and we were able to move forward with the at-home photo shoot today.

3:00 PM – Planning, Planning, and More Planning

As Kitchen Operations, we are considered essential to managing the Test Kitchen space. As we proceed with creating a plan of eventually returning back to the office space, our team is heavily focused on what that will look like, so that we can return back to the office, safely, for essential photography and video needs.

4:00 PM – Team Cheeseboard

End of the day Zoom happy hour

Meri and her teammates continuing their workplace tradition from afar.

Our team and the Kitchen Photo team has a longstanding tradition of getting together once a month at the end of the day to enjoy a cheeseboard. We would typically do this in our office space, after a long day in the kitchen. Now that we are working from home, we have continued with the tradition, but over Zoom—and with more wine!