Meet the Cast

Cook's Illustrated Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser Joins the Cast of America's Test Kitchen TV

He may be a new face to fans of the show, but Keith Dresser is anything but an America's Test Kitchen newcomer.

Published Jan. 12, 2017.

The 2017 season of America’s Test Kitchen has arrived! To help you share in the excitement, we’ll be giving you a peek behind the television curtain with interviews with our hosts and on-screen test cooks—familiar faces and newcomers alike.

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While the subject of today’s interview may be a new face to fans of the show, Keith Dresser has been an integral part of the behind-the-scenes kitchen production for more than a decade. Keith has worked at the test kitchen for 14 years and has been heavily involved in the television show since season 3—he helped run the back kitchen, which is where a lot of the food you see on the show is prepared. I caught up with Keith recently and chatted about his mother’s chocolate chip cookies, getting thrown to the fire on his first day at ATK, and his role as executive food editor for Cook’s Illustrated.

What’s the first thing you learned to cook?

It was chocolate chip cookies. First starting out with my mother teaching me, and then gradually being able to do it by myself. I think baking is so much more gratifying than savory cooking when you’re young. First of all it’s sweet so it’s delicious to eat. But also, it’s easier to put those building blocks together and have a cool outcome. So it was mostly cookies and cakes and stuff like that, and then as I got older, more savory food.

Do you have a go-to dish or cuisine you like to cook at home?

I very rarely come back to the same dish over again, just because I think there’s so much food out there to make and see. There are certainly family favorites that I have memories of growing up with that I go back to. Like baked beans, which I remember having as a kid, and homey dishes like that. But I don’t know if there’s anything that I’m a true expert at. Which is kind of sad, I guess [laughs]. Maybe I should. I like to do all sorts of cooking, so nothing specific.

Keith studies the prep list before starting the day in the back kitchen during the filming of the 2017 season of America's Test Kitchen TV.

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What was your favorite recipe segment to shoot for the 2017 season?

Scallion Pancakes for sure. They’re simple, they’re kind of quick—they’re delicious. You can make a scallion pancake pretty easily, but to make a good one takes some practice and some researching of recipes. So it was something that I had made in the past and that I enjoyed, and when [Cook’s Illustrated senior editor] Andrea [Geary] developed it for the magazine it was gratifying to see us put that recipe development spin on it. And then to get to do it on TV was really enjoyable.

This is your first season on the show. I’m wondering—were you nervous at all?

Oh, yeah. The first segment—I did one in the morning and one in the afternoon—was really nerve-racking. You practice it, but you don’t really know what to expect. When the host is coming out, and you’re standing there and thinking, “What am I going to say first?” Once you get over that first two or three minutes and you start cooking, everything kind of disappears. It was really kind of strange—you get this tunnel vision in that you’re just cooking and talking to that other person and then everything else dissolves away. As long as I have the first couple of sentences scripted, as long as I knew what I was going to say, it seemed to be alright.

Keith and America's Test Kitchen host Bridget Lancaster share a quick laugh between shots.

What was it like being in front of the camera for the first time with Bridget and Julia? 

I’ve seen it for so long behind the scenes, but I have a new appreciation of what it’s like to be out there in front of the camera—to be able to cook and talk in some sort of intelligent fashion at the same time. It was interesting . . . I think I was so concerned with what the hell I was doing that it could have been anybody there. But they’re both very good at leading you into places where you can answer questions and, like I said, talk intelligently about the recipes.

Keith during his favorite segment from the 2017 season, showing Julia how to prepare scallion pancakes.

Even though this is your first season in front of the camera, you helped manage the back kitchen for years. Can you talk a bit about that?

My first day of work here 14 and a half years ago was the first day of filming the third season of America's Test Kitchen TV. Back then we were in the small kitchen, which was where the dishroom is now. There was very little ventilation, we couldn’t run the hood while they were filming because the mics would pick the sound up, so you’d get smoked out. It was crazier back then—I can’t believe we did that, the entire production, with that kitchen and a lot fewer people. Everybody worked from 7am to 7pm—it was a lot more work back then, but it’s always fun. TV is always fun—whether in front of the camera or behind the camera.

It’s so different from what we do day to day—I compare it to working in restaurants. The immediacy and the adrenaline rush is different than sitting at your desk and typing at your computer.

What was your experience in the food world before coming to work for ATK?

I went to culinary school out of high school—I worked in restaurants for almost ten years, and then kind of got fed up with it and figured I’d probably need to do something else if I were going to be able to make a living into my 30s and 40s.

Keith takes a final glance at his script before shooting a segment for the 2017 season of America's Test Kitchen TV.

What’s your day to day role in the test kitchen look like?

My major role is managing recipe development for Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I’m responsible for mapping out the recipes we’re going to do over the course of the year, and then when we’re into recipe development, my job is to make sure we’re developing a recipe that’s going to please our readers and give us a story and an interesting narrative.

Want to learn more about the 2017 season of America's Test Kitchen TV? Watch the season trailer and check out our cast interviews:

What's the first thing you learned to cook? Let us know in the comments! 

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