Meet the Cast

Test Kitchen Director Erin McMurrer Likes to Keep it Simple

Plus, how home ec class helped inspired her love for food.

Published Dec. 7, 2016.

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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You probably know Erin McMurrer as a cast member of Cook’s Country TV, but this year she’s joining the cast of America’s Test Kitchen for the 2017 season. When Erin isn’t cooking in front of the camera, she’s busy in her role as the test kitchen director. I caught up with Erin to chat about her early days in the food industry, her transition from fine dining to publishing, and what it’s been like to switch from one TV show to the other.

What’s the first thing you learned to cook?

I know this is funny, but home ec class in junior high and high school was 100% my focus. I just really loved it. One of the things I remember learning was a turkey braid. It’s basically deli meat, frozen vegetables, mayonnaise, and mustard—you mix it all together and then you braid the croissant around the filling and bake it. It’s definitely not glamorous, but it was something I was actually allowed to make as a kid.

I also worked at a little clam shack throughout high school, mostly front of the house, but with some cooking as well. I worked there all the time—even in the winter, when there was barely any heat. I knew that I loved food early on based off of that job, based off of home ec, and based off of cooking at home.

Do you have a specific cuisine you like to cook more often than others?

I worked at [beloved Boston fine-dining restaurant] Hamersley’s Bistro for eight years and the owner Gordon Hamersley really took me under his wing and taught me everything. I started out plating desserts and I left as a sous chef. Gordon was all about using pure, simple flavors and making them work together, like in a perfect roast chicken. That really stuck with me.

Erin flashes a quick thumbs up after filming a recipe segment for the 2017 season of ATK TV.

What was your favorite recipe segment to film for the 2017 season of ATK TV?

I’d say Andrea Geary’s Red Lentil Soup. Her recipe is so easy to prepare and is full of flavor—it’s made with North African spices—and it’s done in 20 minutes. It’s one of those recipes you can make when you get home from work and sit down for a great meal within a half hour. I was most excited about that because most people don’t really cook with red lentils very often, and they also don’t know how easy it is to put together a North African spice blend. The recipe might sound kind of scary and intimidating to many, but it’s so easy and accessible, and I make it all the time.

Erin and Julia share a laugh during filming for the 2017 season of ATK TV.

You’ve worked with Bridget and Julia for many years in the test kitchen, but you’d never been on camera with either of them in the past. What was that experience like?

It was great. I’ve worked with them for a million years. They’re both great, they’re both professionals, they’re both excellent at what they do. I’m always trying to learn from them. It’s nerve wracking getting up there, so it’s nice working with people who make me feel comfortable.

What does your day to day look like in the test kitchen?

I’m the test kitchen director. I have to say that over the past 15+ years since I have been working at ATK, every day is different. Over the years, my role has really evolved—in addition to working with my team to manage the 2500 square foot test kitchen and all of the systems required to make it run smoothly, it has also consisted of co-managing recipe development for Cook’s Illustrated, managing the back kitchen for 16 seasons of America’s Test Kitchen TV, and launching and managing the back kitchen for 9 seasons of Cook’s Country TV. In addition, I’ve been really fortunate to have been handed numerous other projects over the years to run with. I love to be busy. There is never a dull moment!

Right now my big project is the big move. So I’m helping to design the new 15,000 square foot kitchen and making sure that everyone’s needs are met.

Erin shows Julia how to make Red Lentil Soup.

What’s your favorite thing about filming America’s Test Kitchen?

Being on camera pushes me out of my comfort zone, so it has really forced me to work on ways to improve myself in that role. I have learned a ton from watching the true ATK veterans over the years.

In general, when I’m not on camera, what I love about filming America’s Test Kitchen is that it happens once a year, requires a ton of preparation and I get to spend some solid time in the kitchen which is where I love to be! Also, filming the TV show reminds me of what I loved the most about working in a restaurant kitchen—having hundreds of short-term deadlines, making make sure everything detail is accounted for and just right, and working with a solid team who has the same mission—to make everything perfect. 

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