What's the dish that made you realize you really loved food?
Lemon meringue pie. My birthday is near a holiday during pie season, and I would ask my grandmother if instead of a cake she would make lemon meringue pie for my birthday. So lemon meringue pie was my birthday cake growing up—as it should be everyone’s. My grandmother gave me her pie dough recipe, but it didn’t turn out anything like her’s, because of course she left stuff out. Because that’s what you do: “You don’t need me if I pass on my recipes.” Lemon meringue pie was definitely the thing that made me start baking, and that’s really what I concentrated on while growing up.
What’s your background in the food world pre-ATK?
I was a pastry chef in Boston. At the same time I was also working at Williams-Sonoma, because no one can live on the salary of a pastry chef starting out. And that’s actually how I got the job here—I worked there part-time with someone who was on the editorial staff of Cook’s Illustrated, and she said, “I know you have a background in food and pastry, why don’t you come in and do a bench test, hang out with us, see if you like it?” This was back in 1998.
Things in the test kitchen were a bit different then, from what I'm told.
It was tiny—there were two residential ranges, only a couple of the burners worked on the stovetop. The dish room now was the original kitchen. The ovens didn’t work very well. We only had two wall ovens. We did all of our own dishes in a residential dishwasher. We did our own shopping. I find myself doing a little bit of that, “You kids don’t know what you have today,” when I go into the test kitchen.
I was working as a pastry chef, and I was so tired of going in at 3:30, 4 o’clock in the morning. It was kind of nice because I love the quiet, and I loved getting out of there when it started getting busy, but at the same time it was just thankless. You might make this beautiful creation and no one’s around to see it. So I have no desire to go back into the restaurant industry, unless I own something.