Meet the Cast
Resident Science Pro Dan Souza Is All About Precision
And he really fell in love with cooking when he discovered the virtues of homemade pasta.
11-08-2016
Terrence Doyle

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.

Want to know where and when America’s Test Kitchen airs in your area? Enter your zip code into our station finder.


 

Our resident science guy, Dan Souza, has been hard at work launching the website for our newest brand, Cook’s Science (of which he, along with Molly Birnbaum, is the executive editor), and writing and editing the latest Cook’s Science cookbook (the follow-up to last year's New York Times bestseller The Science of Good Cooking). I caught up with Dan to discuss the first time he made fresh pasta, his love of seafood, and the responsibilities that come along with being an executive editor. (Editor's note: Since this article first ran, Dan was named the Editor in Chief of Cook's Illustrated, where he will continue to combine his cooking, editing, and science expertise to grow the brand's print and digital presence.)

Is there a moment you can pinpoint when you knew you were into food?

I remember I was making fresh pasta. (Editor's note: Dan has long since mastered fresh pasta—watch him make our groundbreaking recipe for fresh pasta without a machine.) I think it was a Jamie Oliver Naked Chef recipe or something, and I just thought it was awesome that I could make something that I didn’t realize you could make at home. I didn’t grow up with an Italian grandmother who could make all those things, so it was kind of eye opening for me. And I loved how special it could be. It was a very simple thing, came from simple ingredients, but you could turn it into something really, really interesting. It was terrible pasta the first time I made it—it was way too thick and it didn’t cook well. But it was one of those experiences where you’re like, “Oh, there’s more to it than I thought.”

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

I'm a big seafood person. It comes to me from both sides—my mom’s side of the family is from Maine, and my dad’s side is from Portugal, and so there are these two really strong seafood cultures that really influenced me a lot when I was younger. So if I’m cooking seafood, I’m happy. I love to grill whole fish or make ceviche, and I love to preserve a lot, so I make gravlax. Basically, if it comes from the ocean I love it.

If I’m cooking seafood, I’m happy. I love to grill whole fish or make ceviche, and I love to preserve a lot, so I make gravlax. Basically, if it comes from the ocean I love it.

Souza chats with a coworker between scenes.

You’ve been on the show for a while and you’ve done a lot of live events—do you ever get nervous when all of those cameras are pointed at you?

Absolutely. For me it’s good—I think nerves can help you prepare better and keep you a little sharper and more focused. I kind of fear the day when I am not nervous at all getting up there, because I feel like my performance might not be as good. I’m much more nervous during the first couple recipes that I film, then I get a little more comfortable with it. You don’t do it for a year and you kind of fall out of practice, but by the end it’s a lot more comfortable, and you’re having a little more fun with it. But yeah, every year I get a little nervous again.

To what degree do you follow a script during your segments?

It’s nice that we write the scripts so we have an idea of where everything’s going. It’s a little more engrained in your memory that way. But I try and put the script down pretty early on. I want to know the recipe really, really well. I want to know how the scenes break down, because that’s super important. What’s nice about doing a cooking show is that you have all these props and food in front of you, so you can think, “Oh, this is what I do next. This is what I do after that.” It’s kind of holding your hand through the whole process. So I try and put the script away pretty early on so I don’t get wedded to all of these nice, perfect words that I wrote. Because there’s just no way you’re going to remember. Sitting there trying to remember them on camera—you can almost see it on someone’s face. I want it to be natural and I want to have a really strong connection to the recipes so that I can riff off that. The thing is, the test cook is usually scripted pretty heavily, but the host is not. So you really need to be on your toes, and you need to be comfortable with the recipes so you can ad lib and jump off whenever Bridget or Julia takes you somewhere else.

Souza shares some screen time with longtime cast member Bridget Lancaster, one of the new hosts of the 2017 season.

You’ve worked on the show with Bridget and Julia for a while now, but you’ve never shared a scene with either of them. That must have been fun for you. Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?

It was awesome. I used to work with Julia on the books team, so that was fun to get back to working closely with her because it’s been a while since then. And then Bridget—I’ve always adored Bridget, but never had much of a chance to work with her. So it was really fun. They’re both super different, and I think it comes across on screen. They act really different and they ask different questions—I enjoyed working with both of them a lot.

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

We did a recipe for Korean fried chicken wings. The crew is really psyched to eat the recipes all the time, but there was so much anticipation around this one. It’s wings, and they smell so good when you’re making them—it was palpable in the room that everyone was so excited about it. That was just fun—we were cooking something that was absolutely delicious. It’s Andrea Geary’s recipe—her recipes are so awesome. There was so much excitement around it that it made it a really great one to film.

And then I did some science segments, sort of solo to camera this year that were really interesting. We did one on Parmesan cheese—we used the huge quarter wheel which was fun. We try to have some fun with those.

I used to work with Julia on the books team, so that was fun to get back to working closely with her because it’s been a while since then. And then Bridget—I’ve always adored Bridget, but never had much of a chance to work with her. So it was really fun.

New ATK TV cast member Keith Dresser and Souza discuss mason jars before filming a segment about home preserving.

Can you talk a bit about your role in the test kitchen when you’re not in front of the cameras?

I recently moved over from Cook’s Illustrated magazine to our new venture Cook’s Science as an executive editor. So I’m in charge of recipe development for Cook’s Science, and also everything else that goes along with that, which includes editing and commissioning our more reported stories along with Molly Birnbaum, and working with our small team. We just finished a tour of live shows to promote the book we just published—also called Cook’s Science. All things Cook’s Science at this point. (Editor's note: Dan was recently named the Editor in Chief of Cook's Illustrated, where he will continue to combine his cooking, editing, and science expertise to grow the brand's print and digital presence.)


Want to learn more about your favorite ATK TV cast member? Check out our cast interviews:

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