BROOKLINE — America's Test Kitchen has helped shape a revolution in food, convincing the public to take back their kitchens and learn what it takes to get cooking right. What started in 1993 with the groundbreaking magazine Cook's Illustrated became a multimedia empire that includes the namesake "America's Test Kitchen," ranked the most-watched instructional cooking program on television by the Nielsen index. More than 2 million fans tune in each week.
Now America's Test Kitchen is adding another ingredient to its successful recipe. Next month the company launches the Cook's Science website — part of a multifaceted platform that aims to bring a new generation of home cooks into the fold. (Change is in the air. Last week, cofounder Christopher Kimball announced his next step, a new venture called Milk Street Kitchen.)
The aim of Cook's Science, say executive editors Molly Birnbaum and Dan Souza, is to tell stories about food science by stepping out of the kitchen and reporting from the field. "We are adding some narrative journalism to the mix to tell stories about the intersection of food and science, and then coming back to the test kitchen to create recipes for the home cook," says Birnbaum, who is currently contributing monthly segments about food science to public radio program "The Splendid Table" as part of the venture.
Those food science stories include a road trip to small local farms as a backdrop for a segment about the scientific reasons mozzarella made with cow's milk is different from that made with goat's milk. A detailed look at Pennsylvania State University's seven-day course on the science of ice cream will precede an ice cream-making session back in the test kitchen.
Adding food science to the mix makes good business sense, says CEO David Nussbaum, on the phone from his home in Manhattan. He points to the success of "The Science of Good Cooking," a 2012 book from America's Test Kitchen that spent eight weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list and has sold more than 300,000 copies. "As you look around and you see the emerging interest for both science and food as two separate categories," he says, "it's clear that bringing them together is going to be a really, really interesting place to be."
America's Test Kitchen has always had a foundation in science, says Nussbaum, who divides his time between Boston and New York. "It's in our gene pool," he says. The tenets of the scientific method — thorough research, thoughtful hypotheses, and rigorous testing and analysis — underpin the company's recipe-development process. Now Cook's Science gives the subject a starring role, banking on home cooks' rising interest in understanding the chemistry taking place in their pots and pans.
"Understanding the whys behind a technique or how an ingredient works, I think, is really powerful for home cooks," says Souza, a veteran "America's Test Kitchen" cast member and culinary science expert. This is particularly true of younger cooks, he says. "People are really embracing [science] as a tool to understand the world around them."
While the narratives and science-centric approach of Cook's Science represent a departure from the company's usual fare, by all accounts the 2017 season of "America's Test Kitchen" will remain true to format.
After host Kimball's departure, fans will still tune in to a largely familiar program. Case in point, says Nussbaum, is the decision to have Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster cohost the show. "What the announcement of Julia and Bridget told our audience is, these are two longtime cast members, so we are going to stay on message, on core."
The company, says Nussbaum, plans to increase its workforce by about 15 percent in 2016 and will relocate to a larger space in Boston to accommodate growth. A follow-up to "The Science of Good Cooking," which will also be titled "Cook's Science," is slated for an October release. A corresponding tour is planned, with live shows hosted by Birnbaum and Souza in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, and Austin, Texas.
"We are going to continue to aggressively invest in ATK, Cook's Country, and Cook's Illustrated," says Nussbaum, "but we also want to launch another leg of the company, and that's what Cook's Science is going to be."
If science is the heart of America's Test Kitchen's new venture, for Souza and Birnbaum storytelling is its soul. The two executive editors — whose long-term vision for Cook's Science's multimedia lineup includes a television show — say it is a way to make a sometimes too-abstract topic more digestible. "We want to give context to what we are talking about," says Birnbaum. "We're both story geeks," adds Souza. "We love a good story."
For more information, go to www.cooksscience.com.
Valerie Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.