Working at America’s Test Kitchen—seeing (and hearing and smelling and tasting) all of our recipes come to life—truly is a privilege. It’s an experience I would love to share with all of the home cooks and families who trust our recipes.
And now, finally, we at ATK can invite you into our kitchen for a front-row seat to all the action in the very first episode of America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation.
Eleven talented home cooks have taken over our test kitchen in the hopes of winning the gig of a lifetime: becoming the newest member of the ATK cast. They’ll also score a whopping $100,000 and a cookbook deal.
To help them along the way, the current cast members are here to judge their food and lend advice. Show host Julia Collin Davison, ingredient guru Jack Bishop, food stylist and author Elle Simone Scott, and Cook’s Illustrated Editor in Chief Dan Souza will all support the contestants as they head towards the finale.
The judges will be also accompanied by talk show host and avid home cook Jeannie Mai Jenkins, who will guide the hopeful cooks—and us at home—through the challenges.
Okay, got it. So what happened in Episode 1?
One thing’s for sure: All the shiny kitchen benchtops and confetti-colored stand mixers in the test kitchen couldn’t begin to pull attention from the one and only Jeannie Mai Jenkins. The contestants gasp as she saunters into the kitchen, clad in a bold orange power suit and a megawatt smile.
Each week, contestants will be given two challenges: the First Task, where the winner will receive an advantage in the next round, and a Test Challenge, where the winner will receive an enviable prize. The person who placed closest to the bottom of both challenges will be sent home.
Yikes. Let’s hear about the First Task.
“Create a dish that tells us exactly who you are . . . and remember, first impressions are everything!” Jeannie instructs the cooks, who have each been assigned a different protein to work with for their first Task in the competition. Suddenly, a frenzy erupts as the contestants dash between the pantry and their benchtops.
A fun little fact for you: This makeshift “pantry” is in fact the room where our Reviews team conducts their product taste tests. Many a tablespoon of BBQ sauce or single raw anchovy have been tasted and analyzed in this space.
A very special mention at this point must go to Jeannie’s adorable strawberry timer (that you can buy for yourself), which is promptly set to 60 minutes.
It takes a whole lot less than an hour for me to start stressing out on behalf of contestant Marc Sievers, though. Marc, who has been a vegetarian for over 18 years, opens up his Dutch oven to discover that he has been assigned shrimp as his protein and has no intention of tasting his dish as he cooks.
Good luck, Marc. I fear you’ll need it.
And with that, it’s time for judging.
Luckily, Marc’s shrimp linguini impresses judges Dan and Julia. But as Peter’s turn arrives, the contestant apologetically slides his lonely-looking fillet of salmon across the table. Let’s be honest; it’s not the most appetizing-looking dish in the test kitchen today.
The winning dish of the first challenge is Robbie Guevarra's roasted chicken with lemon mayo. “You are speaking to me with this mayonnaise,” Dan says, and I can’t help but think that’s the kind of language I want to be fluent in.
Robbie is gifted five extra minutes for the next task, and we’re on to Round 2, the Test Challenge, at breakneck speed.
On to the Test Challenge!
Before long, Peter is once again flustered and unable to find white pepper for his Korean Wagyu sliders. At this point, I can only bear watching him dash frantically around the kitchen through the gaps in my fingers. Can we please fast forward past this?
We’re in the final minutes of the challenge; it looks like Peter has gained some ground! He’s attempting to plate up the sliders with his gochujang mayonnaise, but… disaster strikes again. Squeezing the sauce bottle and whispering desperate pleas, the thick sauce isn’t budging, and none of it ends up on the plate.
... Sorry, I had to.
“We’ve got untorched cheese. No mayo. No white pepper,” Peter laments to the judges, and all I want to do is hug him and throw that damned sauce bottle at the wall.
Finally, the winner of the Test Challenge is announced as Christina Phan, and her Lunar New Year recipe is set to be featured on the website (check it our here!).
“I am speechless, I have goosebumps,” she whispers to herself.
So it’s elimination time . . . I guess Peter is going home?
“So, we’ve decided,” Jeannie says gravely, pausing for anticipation.
“That nobody’s going home today.”
“How? Are you serious?” Peter cries out as the room erupts into relieved applause around him.
Dan assures the cooks that learning from your mistakes is an important part of the process at America’s Test Kitchen, but unfortunately, the worst performing cook of the next challenge won’t be as lucky.
“Next week . . . it’s a new game, new week,” Peter says with determination and a newfound aversion to white pepper and sauce bottles everywhere.
Want to watch the thrills and spills for yourself? You can watch America's Test Kitchen: The Next Generation right here, with new episodes dropping every Friday.