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Even the experts here at America’s Test Kitchen weren’t born with a wealth of cooking knowledge. In this series, we’ll be sitting down with our very own test cooks to find out how they began their culinary journey.
Today, we’re chatting with Jack Bishop, Editorial Director at America’s Test Kitchen. Jack is a self-taught cook and gourmet, and promises that “if you slow down and enjoy the rhythm, cooking can actually be relaxing.” Jack started at Cook’s Magazine more than 20 years ago and has since helped launch both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated magazines. He is also an accomplished author and has written numerous cookbooks including The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook and A Year in the Vegetarian Kitchen.
Why did you learn to cook?
Jack never attended culinary school. “As a young teenager, my mother went back to work and was never home to cook dinner. When I realized we wouldn’t be having anything that wasn’t from the microwave, I started cooking.” He began with simple dishes that his mother would dictate to him over the phone. “At first, I made quite a few Easy Onion Pot Roasts with those Lipton onion packets. And a lot of brownies.” He soon moved onto recipes from Joy of Cooking and concentrated on perfecting fairly simple dishes like roast chicken, pancakes, and pasta with meat sauces.
What made you successful in the kitchen?
“It’s so important to master dishes through repetition. I picked five simple dishes and made them over and over again until I didn’t need to look at a recipe. That way you really understand what’s going on in a dish and can adapt. So many people struggle in the kitchen because they are trying too many dishes before they have mastered the basics.”
Is there anything you still struggle with in the kitchen?
“Well, compared to Bridget,” he admits, “my knife skills are an embarrassment.”
What are the biggest mistakes you see new cooks making?
“It’s important to read the recipe in TOTAL before you even go shopping, so that you can save yourself the headache of being halfway through the process, sautéing onions your onions, when you realize that you forgot the ground beef. Also, really understanding what makes a recipe tick means you can lift up the hood and roll with the punches when everything isn’t perfect. For example, if you’re faced with tomatoes that are larger than expected, or a grill that is too hot, you need to be able to adapt. Only repetition and skill can give you that type of intuition.”
Why do you love to cook?
“The quality of food, even if you are making simple dishes, can be so much higher when you make it yourself. When you can see and decide what goes into your food, you can eat a much better, healthier diet.”
Jack also loves the skill that goes into cooking and deeply enjoys demonstrating techniques to others: “Cooking allows you to create something to share with others. It’s not a chore, like doing the laundry – cooking dinner for someone is like magic.”