Vegan
04-26-2017

On Being Vegan and Working at America’s Test Kitchen

Being a vegan in the test kitchen had always been difficult—until we started work on developing a cookbook for vegans.

Izzy Darby

I’ve been vegan for seven years, and I’ve worked at America’s Test Kitchen for three. To say the three years working here have been excruciating might sound extreme, but I doubt you’ve ever tasted 10 samples of vegan mayonnaise in one sitting.

See, having an “alternative” diet in and around the test kitchen can be challenging. All day long voices sound over an intercom announcing recipe tastings for gooey sticky buns, seared flank steak, or piping-hot pepperoni pizza straight from the oven.

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Above, right: Me as an avocado last Halloween in the test kitchen. 

I get emails mid-day requesting that tasters meet downstairs to try samples of tiramisu or sharp cheddar cheese. The vegan-friendly tastings I can actually attend usually feature foodstuff that’s either relatively bland (think graham crackers or plain Jasmine rice), bitingly astringent (apple cider vinegar), or just not something you’d ever want to eat alone. (You haven’t lived until you’ve consumed half a cup of olive oil in one sitting.)

We have a “take-home fridge” where all leftovers from recipe tastings and testings end up. It tends to fill up with juicy pork tenderloin, carrot cake, or cured egg yolks from the latest Cook’s Science experiment—but there are rarely any vegan options. For a long time my best take-home fridge score was a five-pound bag of chopped onions. I took the bag of onions home with me that night on the subway, and I was pretty sure everyone on the train thought the smell was emanating from my body.

I watched the [vegan] recipes mature from aspirational ideas to perfected reality and I have prepared many of the recipes in my home kitchen (the chocolate chip cookies will change your life).

Now that you understand the difficult existence of an herbivore at the test kitchen, you can probably imagine the beats my heart skipped last year when I heard that a vegan cookbook was in the pipeline. I (overzealously) started attending every single vegan tasting. I threw back 12 samples of plain tahini and chomped through blocks of raw tofu. I was willing to do anything to support the creation of this book.

I ate every morsel I found in the take-home fridge during development, including at least six early iterations of chocolate cake that ranged from “loose basket of crumbs” to “cement-like,” but that ended up delicious by the end of development. (Hey, that’s why we spend weeks testing one recipe.) I frequently picked up quarts of in-development macaroni and cheese, which was delicious, but eventually realized I was doing whatever the polar opposite of the Atkins diet is. I felt like a proud parent when I saw the final iteration of that mac and cheese recipe printed in the book.

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I work in the ATK marketing department, so my job is to find compelling ways to show and explain our products. We want to show you, the home cook, why the recipes, equipment, and ingredients we’ve tested are foolproof and worth trusting over all the other recipes out there. Working to market Vegan for Everybody has been special for me.

I watched the recipes mature from aspirational ideas to perfected reality and I have prepared many of the recipes in my home kitchen (the chocolate chip cookies will change your life). I am proud of everything ATK produces, but this book is personal for me. I have been cooking and blogging as a vegan for seven years, so I understand how unique these recipes are. It is not all that hard to convert a “regular” recipe into a recipe for vegans, but it is something special when you develop a great one. Vegan for Everybody does that in spades.

Bookstore

Vegan for Everybody

Veganism is going mainstream. The benefits of consuming fewer animal products appear frequently in the news. But eating vegan can seem overwhelming: Will it be flavorful? Satisfying? Easy to make? In Vegan for Everybody, the test kitchen addresses head-on what gives people pause—finding great and filling vegan protein options, cooking without dairy, preparing different whole grains and vegetables, and even baking.

 

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