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Ahead of Austin visit, the quotable Christopher Kimball

Addie Broyles

I’ve always wanted to interview Christopher Kimball.

He’s the notoriously opinionated founder of America’s Test Kitchen, which has been bucking industry trends long before the words “food” and “blogger” were on the lips of every publishing house in America.

For years, I’ve admired (and been somewhat baffled at the success of) the ATK strategy of running a sophisticated test kitchen, publishing so many cookbooks in a year and charging print subscribers an additional fee to read the content online. How do they maintain such a high bar in a food world that has been democratized by bloggers?

In today’s Life section, you can read my story on him ahead of the America’s Test Kitchen live show on Wednesday at the Long Center, but for this post, I’ve pulled the gems from our conversation late last month:

On charging readers for content: “Everybody gives their recipes away, but why would I do that when we spend $12,000 developing and testing each recipe? I said, ‘If you want this content, you have to support the people who produce it.’ I stuck to my guns. I pissed a lot of people off. They’d say: ‘How could you charge for content? It’s part of my right to get free content.’ No, it’s not.”

On how American cooking has changes: “The repertoire of American recipes that people really want to make is limited, under 1,000 recipes. In 1970, ’80 or ’90, people cooked the same things they always had. About three years ago, due to food shows, restaurants and general exposure to new foods and ingredients, they are not just cooking more ‘ethnic’ recipes, they are cooking more vegetarian, more whole grains. People are more sophisticated, so we have a whole new group of recipes to introduce them to.”

On his Vermont-centric letters to the editor: “Everybody on some level wants to belong to a place. I don’t think many people do anymore, but I think that makes the desire even stronger. Belonging to a place doesn’t matter where you live. I don’t think that has changed.”

On improvising in the kitchen: “Our job is to find the three things that are most likely to go wrong in a recipe, and tell you which corners can’t be cut. It’s very American. I feel the same way. You want cooking to be creative and you don’t just want to follow somebody else’s recipe, but on the other hand, orchestras around the world have been playing Beethoven’s 5th for quite a long time, following his recipe, with a great deal of success.”

On what the audience can expect on Wednesday: “They don’t want to hear about me. They want to see something in themselves on stage. That’s why good comics are so successful: They are really talking about the peccadilloes and the lifestyle of the people listening.”