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Our original Test Kitchen, 1966 (left), and our current Test Kitchen (right). Recipe testing will continue to be part of our approach when we move to our new offices in Oakland and Sonoma.
Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran a thought-provoking story about the current state of recipe testing in America, and singled out Sunset’s test kitchen as one of the best.
The other day, The New York Times published an article about our parent company, Time Inc., and its recognition of the importance of recipe testing (Time is building a gleaming new food studio in Birmingham, Alabama, with 28 test kitchens).
So just how do we test our recipes at Sunset? Here’s a glimpse of life behind the kitchen counter.
1) Inspiration hits Food editor gets an idea—or an enticing recipe from a chef, blogger, cookbook author, or reader— and cooks it.
2) Tasting ensues Recipe is tasted by food department staff; constructive criticism follows. (“How about”—gasp— “a little less chile?”) Since we test and taste lots of recipes every day, a light lunch might be a steak, half an enchilada, and bites of three different pies.
3) Food editor tweaks If the recipe came from an outside cook, changes require extra diplomacy. (“Would you consider an alternative to fir tips?”)
4) Tweaked recipe is tested ... Our testers—quality control—are good home cooks with no culinary training; they cook the recipe exactly as written and expose its flaws. (“Um, the chocolate burned.”)
5) ... and retested Recipe goes to a second tester—a new set of eyes and pair of hands, on a different set of equipment (for instance, something cooked on an electric stove will be cooked on a gas one the second time around). Even a recipe that sails through the first test goes through at least once more to make sure it’s foolproof. This is why our readers say they’re comfortable cooking Sunset recipes for dinner parties—even recipes they’ve never cooked before.
6) Editors polish Recipe circulates among copy editors; debates over best terms—“fresh coriander” versus “cilantro”—get hashed out. The polished recipe goes off to print.