The same day I opened the magazine, I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for their mushroom bisque recipe. I adore mushrooms and I really liked the write-up.
See, I adore the way the test kitchen folks approach a dish.
They consider what they're looking for--what would the optimal mushroom bisque feel like? Taste like? How much time are we willing to spend? How much money?
Then it's time to start cooking. Sometimes they try several recipes they've found, and sometimes they just make a basic batch of the item.
And they have taste tests and consider how it works with the criteria they've determined. They identify surprises and problems and consider how to refine what they're doing.
Then they set out on their own recipe--sometimes coming up with some colossal failures. They tweak and tweak, more taste tests and technique shifts, until they get it where they think it best matches their criteria. And even then, they sometimes revisit techniques and ingredients in years to come.
In this case, they had to figure out a reasonable mix of mushrooms, how to make the dish taste more of mushrooms than cream or chicken stock, and their wild and crazy finding? You could skip the time-consuming step of slicing the mushrooms, and just microwave them to pull out enough of the moisture to get good browning. (No worries--that reserved mushroom essence was returned to the pot.)
So, what would America's* Test Congregation look like?
- Clarity around what they're looking for
- Considering what's already out there, and what they think they know
- Checking in and getting the opinions of a variety of stakeholders
- Realizing that failure is an opportunity for lessons, not the end of the world
- Willingness to try something outside the norm
- Knowing that this stuff is DELICIOUS!
- Sharing their results
- Coming back to their program from time to time, considering what might be tweaked
*The PBS show related to the magazine is America's Test Kitchen. I'm riffing on that, not purposely excluding my colleagues outside the US.