It takes months of research, testing and retesting, and writing and rewriting to develop an equipment review story. All of that hard work is then distilled into a one- to two-page magazine piece, every last detail put precisely in its place. This online interview series with the cooks and editors offers a firsthand, behind-the-scenes look at the story development process in the test kitchen.
I caught up with testings and tastings senior editor Hannah Crowley recently to discuss her most recent review of small food processors (and the general method to her team’s testing and tasting madness). Per Crowley: Don’t buy a food processor whose blade is raised too far from the bottom of the bowl, and if you’re making dough, skip the small models and spring for a full-sized machine.
Terrence Doyle: Your team always manages to write reviews of kitchen equipment—an ostensibly dull topic—that are both informative and engaging. Can you discuss how you're able to make 800 words about small food processors worth reading?
Hannah Crowley: I totally get that kitchen equipment like a food processor or a thermometer sounds boring on its face, but once you get into the kitchen and start testing, the drama just naturally unfolds—food splatters everywhere, hot oil sears your arm hair off, a citrus juicer makes such an annoying scream that a crowd gathers.
With my stories, I try to bring readers into the kitchen with me to see the mayhem, the joy, and the work we put into finding the absolute best equipment. I think if a reader feels like they’re seeing, smelling, tasting, and listening right along with me, they understand better what I’m trying to say.
I also hope that by injecting a little passion into a story about something like kitchen timers or Parmesan cheese, I might be able to actually move somebody to replace a frustrating piece of equipment that they tussle with daily or to seek out a special experience—like a chunk of real-deal Parmigiano-Reggiano that tastes like hazelnuts and cream and sea salt over some wedge of supermarket Parmesan that tastes like the paste I ate in kindergarten.
TD: The testings and tastings team likes to beat on the kitchen equipment it’s testing to see how much abuse it can withstand. What kind of abuse testing did you do for this story?
HC: I washed all of the removable parts 10 times in the dishwasher and threw the bowls and their lids off of a counter five times.
TD: Is the abuse testing the best part of the job?
HC: Sometimes, I guess. Actually I take that back: I feel like I’m supposed to say yes here, to say it’s fun to knock things around, but I mostly find it stressful. I don’t enjoy breaking things, and I get frustrated when things fall apart really easily. It’s like, “Really? You wanted someone to spend their hard-earned money on this? Not on my watch!” I also startle easily. Ask anyone that tries to walk up behind me to ask me a question—I jump a mile. So knocking things around makes me skittish, but I still do it.
TD: What's the most surprising discovery you made about small food processors?
HC: It was shocking to see how bad some of these were—if it can’t make mayo, chop vegetables, or puree herbs, what the heck can it do? When something is so bad at what it’s designed to do, it’s destined to become a D.C., aka a Dust Collector.
TD: What’s the most important thing for the home cook to know when purchasing a small food processor?
HC: They’re great for quick prep and smaller projects, especially if space is limited. A good food processor opens the door to a wider range of recipes and can be your best friend—you know that moment when you look at your food processor and weigh the pros and cons of dragging it out, time saved vs. dishes generated? With a good food processor, you always want to use it because it makes life easier. But a major point I want to make: If you’re into making doughs—pizza, bread, bagel, pie—spend the extra money and get a full-sized processor. They’re indispensable. And if you’re like me and hate shredding cheese, do it and say goodbye to bloody knuckles forever. From a cheese grater at least.