ATK at Home
A Day in the Life of Camila Chaparro, Associate Editor of ATK's Cookbook Team
Working, cooking, exercising, and parenting—all from home, all in a day’s work.
06-29-2020
Camila Chaparro

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 a member of ATK's cookbook team, I spend my days in the Test Kitchen developing, tasting, discussing, and writing recipes destined for books about everything from bowls and pies to cocktails and cooking for one. I've continued that work from home all while negotiating some new challenges: a smaller kitchen, virtual "tastings," lots of dirty dishes, and two kids who need to be fed and entertained. (Fortunately, I've got my husband to split that last duty.) Here's what a typical day looks like.

6:30 AM – Up With the Sun

You can’t get too much farther east in the US than Boston, so the sun comes up alarmingly early here, even for a morning person like myself. But in my opinion, it’s the best time of the day, and an early start lets me really appreciate it. I open all the windows for the cool morning air, and head outside for a short run, on a route that’s become my social-distancing running routine—out and back on a road with a wide grassy median, bike and parking lanes, and plenty of room. 

Back home, I take my first mug of coffee to the back yard, where I like to start my day by seeing what’s growing in my vegetable garden: The snap peas are vining up their trellis, the cucumbers have popped up out of the ground, and the tomatoes are growing bigger each day. I’ve already spotted a baby ancho chile pepper and soon we’ll have arugula big enough for salad.

Camila in her garden

Like so many others spending more time at home this summer, gardening has been a solace for Camila.

I’ve had a vegetable garden since we moved here seven years ago, but this year, tending to it—nurturing the little seedlings along, and seeing flowers, and then tiny vegetables appear—has been even more fulfilling and refreshing than usual.

8:30 AM – Family Plan

By 8:30 everyone else is up, and my husband and I are taking breakfast orders for my two sons, 6 and 8. Fortunately, no one generally wants anything too complicated in the morning: Cereal and toast are my kids’ two mainstays. 

Then we all hash out our day: when my husband and I have Zoom meetings, when the kids have online “class” with their teachers, who will be working where in the house, and how my husband and I will tag team helping the kids with their work. We update the white board in our kitchen that helps keep track of our daily schedules, an essential part of our new routine. Despite it, and despite working and schooling from home for close to three months now, every day still feels like we’re winging it.

Camila and her son making a plan for the day

Camila and her son planning the schedule for the day.

9:00 AM – Meal and Meeting Prep

As everyone gets situated, I take my second (or is it third?) cup of coffee and settle into my spot at the dining room table across from my two sons as they stream a video for school (they’re engaged—for now).

Camila and her sons sharing a table

Camila and her kids starting work and school, respectively.

I’ve started recipe development for a new “meal prep” cookbook and I’m excited to see how it will all come together. It sounds like a book I could use; Just because I cook for a living, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get dinner on the table each night!

I’m working on two “pantry recipes” at the moment: a quick spaghetti amatriciana; and a bulgur, chickpea, spinach, and apple salad using frozen spinach and canned chickpeas. I’ve scheduled a Zoom call to discuss both recipes with my team of Test Cooks and Editors at 9:30am, so beforehand, I share the document where I’ve been taking notes and photos of the spaghetti I made for dinner last night.

During the call, I recap how the changes we made to the sauce worked out great. (Cross that recipe off my list!) As for the bulgur salad, after brainstorming a few new ideas with my team, today I’m going to try a dressing using smoked paprika, lemon, and shallots instead of the harissa I used yesterday. I write out the new changes to the recipe so that I’ll be ready to get into the kitchen when my groceries arrive.

10:00 AM – Wellness from Home

Though I’ve barely settled into my work day, up next on my calendar is a live-streamed yoga class with a favorite teacher, so I quickly change clothes and rush to the living room with my laptop to set myself up. 

Back in the office, my team had a daily lunchtime “wellness hour” when everyone could take time to go exercise, take a walk, or just get some fresh air. In the Test Kitchen, “lunch” might consist of a few bites of banana cream pie, a couple spoonfuls of quinoa-taco salad, and a hunk of cheese-filled Adjaruli Khachapuri bread. Not exactly healthy (but pretty delicious!). Carving out space in my workday to get exercise is something I’ve tried to continue while working from home (though some days, and weeks, are better than others).

I log on to the yoga class, happy to see a familiar face, even through a computer screen. When I finish my class—relaxed yet invigorated—I see my groceries for today’s testing have arrived on the front porch via Instacart! Thanks to lots of behind-the-scenes organization by ATK’s Kitchen Operations team, we’ve been able to continue recipe development from home without missing a beat.

Doing yoga then bringing in groceries

After yoga, the groceries arrive. Now it's time to cook.

11:15 AM – Lunch Duty

Finally time to get cooking! Well, almost. 

Unlike in the Test Kitchen where there’s a clean, empty counter and stove waiting for me each morning, at home it’s a slightly different story. There’s always a bit of clutter and a few stray dishes to put away or stack in the dishwasher, the result of four people at home full time. (Who knew we could make so many dirty dishes?!) 

No sooner do I have the counters cleaned up, equipment located, and my ingredients gathered, that the kids start asking for lunch. My husband carves out a space on my board to chop some fruit, and I quickly pull together sandwiches for the kids. Today the bulgur recipe will be my lunch, and possibly my husband’s too. At ATK’s office, there are plenty of people to consume the food we create—other test cooks, as well as eager recipients of take-home-fridge leftovers. At home, however, whatever I make for recipe development, my family needs to eat or it will go to waste, so coordinating testing with meal times has been critical. Now, if I could just get cooking . . . 

Camila and her husband cooking lunch for their kids

Camila's work station is great for testing recipes and preparing the kids' lunches.

1:30 PM – Working Lunch

I’ve cooked through the bulgur recipe and I think the new dressing was just what the salad needed. Bright, but smoky and a little spicy, it’s a perfect contrast to the earthy bulgur and chickpeas, and the sweet apples. A lot of the components can be made ahead too, which is a big plus for this book. 

I’m happy with where the recipe is now, but I’m really wishing my fellow Test Cooks were here with me in my home kitchen, not just for their camaraderie, but to weigh in and make sure that they think it’s as great as I do. Back in the office, our team would taste and discuss the flavors, textures, and looks of a recipe to ensure that all of our preferences balance out. At home, it’s just me (though my husband gives it two thumbs up—I’ll take it).

Bulgur salad recipe testing

This bulgur salad will make a great addition to an upcoming cookbook. For Camila and her husband, it's also a great lunch.

I write a few quick notes of my thoughts and snap some photos of the final dish to share with my colleagues, and then head upstairs to the guest room/office to participate in a few Zoom “tastings” from other cooks on my team.

2:00 PM – Virtual Tasting Time

While it’s definitely not the same as our tastings in person, we’ve gotten used to holding virtual “tastings” of recipes we’re developing via Zoom video calls. To make it work, we take a lot of pictures and notes during development to share and discuss with our group. Then, when a recipe is finalized, a different Test Cook will cook through the final recipe to provide any last feedback. 

First up, Senior Editor Leah Collins shares the most recent test results of her crispy lentil salad, a recipe she’s developing for an upcoming cookbook on salads. She tested through the most efficient way to get the crispy texture she wants through a combination of soaking the lentils in water and then frying them. The resulting crispy lentils are stunningly plated on a salad of mixed herbs and yogurt. As much as we’d like to taste it, we can’t, but there’s no lack of volunteers to cook through Leah’s recipe at their own house to make sure it turns out as tasty as it looks (I have no doubts it will).

computer with leah collins
meeting with sam block

It's not the same as meeting in person, but Zoom makes a good stand-in for recipe discussion.

Next, Test Cook Samantha Block discusses the Tex-Mex enchilada recipe for the meal prep cookbook that she made last night for dinner. The sauce needs to be scaled down, but that didn’t stop any of her family from licking their plates clean the night before. After we say our goodbyes, I finish writing up my notes of my own recipe, catch up on emails and other computer work, then head back down to the kitchen to finish cleaning up.

4:30 PM – Zooming Into Happy Hour

The day is almost over, but not before a quick end-of-day team happy hour via Zoom. While transitioning our work to our home kitchens has worked surprisingly well, I think it’s safe to say that we all really miss seeing our team in person every day. Our team’s weekly meetings on Monday mornings, as well as occasional Zoom happy hours, have been a source of support, connection, and laughter in these strange, challenging, and frequently distressing times. 

Today, we talk about possible weekend plans, social distancing conundrums as our states re-open, and homeschooling struggles. And for a little while at least, it kind of feels like we’re chatting and laughing across our stoves as we do back in the Test Kitchen. But then I hear the door behind me open and my 6 year old sneaks in with an impish (but irresistible) grin on his face, and a back-to-reality reminder that it’s time to wrap up this part of the day.