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Bridget and Julia Talk Cooking and TV

The hosts of America's Test Kitchen TV discuss what inspired them to cook and what they love about being on TV.

Published Jan. 19, 2017.

In addition to great recipes and innovative cooking techniques, the last couple of seasons of America's Test Kitchen TV included a pair of new hosts: longtime cast members Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison. Bridget and Julia have been on the television show since the very first episode premiered almost 20 years ago, and they've been developing recipes for our magazines and books even longer than that.

Here, the ladies talk about what it's like to share the hosting duties with a friend, and why they're so passionate about the test kitchen's mission, which is to teach home cooks how to improve their skills.

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What inspired your career in cooking?

Bridget: I’ve always been inspired by my mother, who is still a great cook, but I’d say that it goes back to watching Julia Child on PBS each Saturday morning.

Julia: I grew up cooking alongside my mother (she cooked full meals nearly every night), and I loved the hands-on work of preparing food. In my senior year of college, it dawned on me that culinary school should be my next step—it was the kind of work I naturally gravitated towards. So I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I barely had enough kitchen experience to qualify for the admissions process, but as soon as I became a student there, I knew I had made the right decision. I loved it.

Bridget and Julia have been regulars on America's Test Kitchen TV since the first season.

How has your long career at America’s Test Kitchen prepared you to become the co-host of the TV show?

Bridget: I started as a test cook in 1998, and back then, there were three of us working in the test kitchen, developing recipes, washing dishes, and shopping for all the ingredients ourselves. Over the years I’ve seen the evolution of the test kitchen: the physical space, the increase in the number of test cooks, the testing process. During this time I’ve worn many hats at ATK including running the kitchen for Cook’s Country magazine in its early days, developing content for the online cooking school, and co-hosting America’s Test Kitchen Radio and our podcast, Proof. Of course I’ve been on the TV show since its inception. I have a sense of pride for what we do, and after being on the show for every season, it’s easy for me to be a cheerleader.

Julia: I joined the Cook’s Illustrated team in 1999 developing recipes for the magazine. When we shot our first half season of the TV show in 2000, I was one of the initial on-screen test cooks; in fact, pretty much everyone who worked in the kitchen was on the show. Seventeen seasons later, I’ve witnessed the incredible growth of the company, including the start of Cook’s Country magazine and both TV shows, our cookbook department (where I oversee the recipe development), the radio show, the online cooking school . . . I could go on. In a sense, I grew up here at ATK. And at every turn, I’ve learned more about food and about what our viewers and readers really want from us: unbiased and well-vetted information about cooking and shopping that will help everyone become a better cook at home. Not only do I have all of the recipes ATK has developed over the past 15 to 20 years logged in my head, but I also have a clear vision for how we should continue to do this work in the years to come.

A shot of the longtime friends during filming of the 11th season of America's Test Kitchen TV.

What are some of the most interesting recipes this season? [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the season 17 premiere.]

Bridget: I think that some of the most interesting recipes are new takes on very simple foods. Baked potatoes for instance; who would have thought that there was science behind making a baked potato? But it turns out that baking a potato to the right internal temperature is the difference between fluffy or wet potatoes. Garlic bread is another one. We still kept the recipe simple, but included a clever technique (a makeshift panini press) to ensure that the entire top of the bread bakes up golden brown and crunchy. Clever little recipe.

Julia: A few recipes come to mind this year, one of which is a redo of the very first recipe I ever developed for Cook’s Illustrated magazine back in 1999: Chicken Marsala. My old recipe is terrific, but I’ve stopped making it over the past few years because my tastes have changed and I find it too sweet. The updated version is much less sweet and has a heartier flavor. Another recipe is for a cast-iron seared steak, which was developed for our recent book, Cook It In Cast Iron; this is the best steak I’ve ever tasted, no lie. I went out and bought a cast-iron skillet (no, I didn’t have one before this!) just so that I could make this recipe at home. I can’t wait to share it with the viewers. 

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The tastings and testings are a big part of the show. What’s your favorite piece of equipment featured this season?

Bridget: The tastings and testings are what set us apart from so many other cooking shows. They are there to provide the viewer with tangible information that they can use to better stock their kitchen. My favorite piece of equipment this year is the carbon-steel skillet. [Ed's note: This testing segment will air later this season, but in the meantime, our winning carbon-steel skillet is available on Amazon.] I love that this skillet is seeing a comeback. You need to season it, similar to a cast-iron skillet, but it sears food like no other pan can.

Julia: The tastings really blow my mind, because they’ve proven that a recipe can be greatly affected by the products you use. Choose the wrong brand of broth and your soup will taste like dishwater no matter how great the recipe is. My two favorite pieces of equipment in the coming season are the ice cream makers and carbon-steel skillets; they can be quite expensive, and choosing the best one will ensure you don’t waste your money. 

What do you hope the audience of the show will learn?

Julia: My number one hope is that viewers will simply think, “I could do that. I could make that dish in my own kitchen and it will look and taste just like it does on TV.”

Bridget: I always hope that folks will take away at least one piece of useful cooking info per show—something that they can use in a broader sense when they are cooking in their own kitchens.

These two make a formidable duo in the test kitchen.

There are more cast members this year. How does that change the show?

Bridget: It’s a brilliant move to feature more test cooks this year! We have so many talented people that work all year long to develop incredible content (recipes, tastings, and testings) and now more of them will have a voice on the show, giving viewers a better glimpse into the test kitchen.

Julia: I think that it’s great that we will have some fresh faces on camera this year to show more of the people who do the recipe development work in the kitchen all year round. I’m excited to pull back the curtain to show what our kitchen is really like and to show what it takes to develop one of our recipes start to finish.

What is your favorite ATK recipe?

Julia: At the moment, it’s the Weeknight Roast Chicken. A whole chicken is roasted in a preheated skillet and the oven is turned off during the second half of the cooking time, ensuring that both the white and dark meat are tender and juicy. The recipe is so easy (both my husband and I have it memorized by now) and turns out perfectly every time. It’s the simple recipes, like roast chicken, that get me most excited because they are the hardest to get right; there are no bells and whistles to cover up any mistakes.

Bridget: Of all time? The Coconut Layer Cake that we made on the show many years ago. Coconut everywhere—in the cake, the frosting, the toasted crunchy coconut topping—so good.

Be sure to watch America's Test Kitchen TV to learn how to make all of the delicious recipes Bridget and Julia discussed above, plus a whole lot more. Can't wait for next week's episode? Read these interviews and get to know the cast of America's Test Kitchen before it airs: 

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