In today’s foodie landscape, there are thousands of cookbook writers, food bloggers, and cooking show stars—but there’s only one America’s Test Kitchen. An actual 2,500-square-foot kitchen located outside of Boston, this culinary juggernaut has produced two magazines (Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country), a 17-season television show, and more than 145 cookbooks.
This month, America’s Test Kitchen released its first entirely plant-based cookbook, Vegan for Everybody: Foolproof Plant-Based Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and In-Between. As always, a team of experts rigorously tested each recipe up to 100 times, running gastronomic experiments to discover the secrets of successful vegan cooking. The result is a book that not only brims with mouthwatering recipes proven to please skeptical omnivores—think mushroom Bolognese, potato vindaloo, and French apple tart—but also answers such questions as “Which non-dairy milk is best for baking?” (oat!) and “Can you make tasty meringue from black bean water?” (no, but the water from any brand of canned chickpeas will work).
America’s Test Kitchen chief creative officer Jack Bishop is best known among fans for his blind ingredient taste tests on the America’s Test Kitchen TV show. Bishop is also the author of several cookbooks, including Vegetables Every Day. Read on for our conversation with Bishop, and mark your calendars for his May 1 appearance at Powell’s Cedar Hills Crossing.
What made you decide that the time was right for America Test Kitchen’s first vegan cookbook?
We were just hearing a drumbeat about this topic. It was a larger and larger chorus of people who, when we would ask about vegan cooking, went from “What is that?” to “Could you please help us?”
What types of people are asking for more vegan content?
The largest group was people who are not vegan, but want to eat more plant-based meals. The second group was people who are cooking for people who may be vegan. And the smaller group was people are eating a vegan diet, but want to be able to have an amazing chocolate chip cookie or nacho cheese dip, and rely on America’s Test Kitchen to be able to figure out how you rebuild a recipe like that. It’s not just a question of substituting one ingredient for another. Our test kitchen is really well-suited to be able to say, OK, you can replace the butter with coconut oil. What else in the recipe has to change in order for it to work?
Why are non-vegan folks looking to eat more plant-based meals?
In descending order: a general “I want to be eating less meat and more plants to be healthier;” a smaller group of people who clearly have had medical advice that was more specific, [like] “My husband had a heart attack; his doctor wants him to be eating a vegan diet;” and a smaller undercurrent that a vegan diet is one of the easier things we can all do to benefit the planet.
Was your project team composed entirely of omnivores?
We have 11 people who develop recipes for books, plus a team of three food editors. As far as I know, no one on this project eats an exclusively vegan diet, but there was a range of people who probably would have described themselves as pretty devoted carnivores, and I think that’s always important. The carnivore’s goal is to create a recipe that works for everybody, not just the people who made the decision to eat a vegan diet.
What was the most surprising thing about making these recipes?
There was a lot of trepidation about cheese. Experiences with vegan cheese had been fairly negative on the staff, and there was a thought in the beginning that we would not be able to do it in those recipes where cheese is a main component. I think we were really surprised how successful we were, using cauliflower, potatoes, turmeric, building flavor and texture and color in unexpected ways, rather than taking a recipe and just replacing one cup of cheese with one cup of vegan cheese substitute.
Did you try to veganize classic recipes, or create entirely new dishes, or both?
We wanted to do both. Our audience wanted to be able to make their favorite foods that everybody would eat, whether that’s a chocolate chip cookie or a birthday cake. But we didn’t want to do a book that was just recipes traditionally made with dairy made without dairy or meat products. So there’s a lot of what I would call “naturally vegan” recipes in the book, whether that’s an Asian recipe or a grain and vegetable dish.
What recipes would you recommend to skeptical omnivores?
We did a really great job with tofu, which I think has an incredibly bad reputation that is totally not deserved. I eat more tofu than chicken, and that’s because I actually like tofu more than chicken. I feel like the test kitchen did a really good job, and those recipes have a ton of flavor—they maximize all the virtues of tofu. There’s the rancheros and some of the more traditional Asian recipes. I really encourage omnivores who feel like they had a bad experience with tofu to give it another shot.
One general question: What does America Test Kitchen do with all the leftover food?
We portion it throughout the day in take-home containers. We have something called the take-home fridge, and the 200 people who work at America’s Test Kitchen can feed their families. Even if it’s not the best recipe, it’s only an in-progress working recipe, the fact that you didn’t have to make it is a pretty good perk.
7 p.m. Mon, May 1, Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing, FREE