For many of its fans, America’s Test Kitchen is synonymous with a methodical, often science-based approach to cooking, as represented by two of its biggest properties, the public television series of the same name and its signature Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
But the brand has been investing in and evolving another one of its major magazine and television assets, Cook’s Country. Tuesday, ATK announced that food journalist, cookbook author and food historian Toni Tipton-Martin will be the new editor in chief to spearhead that effort, beginning in November.
Tipton-Martin’s history in food media includes stints at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, where she became the first Black food editor of a major metropolitan daily, and the Los Angeles Times, where she was a staff writer. She has published two acclaimed volumes focusing on Black foodways and cookbooks, “The Jemima Code” in 2015 and “Jubilee” in 2019.
Tipton-Martin says the ATK brand has built its reputation on rigorously tested recipes and now she wants to “devote that level of attention to the stories behind the recipes.”
“It can be as simple as adding some additional information about the African origins to a dish like chicken Mozambique,” she says. “It’s a question of attribution and accurate reporting of the history.”
Jack Bishop, chief creative officer of America’s Test Kitchen, says Tipton-Martin’s background as a storyteller and scholar make her an ideal fit for Cook’s Country, which he said is focused on “leading with heart,” setting it apart from Cook’s Illustrated’s more “cerebral” approach. Cook’s Country’s updated tagline is “celebrating cooking in America,” a subtle but distinct difference from previous branding aimed at “American cooking,” says Bishop.
Especially through the TV program’s “on the road” segments, Tipton-Martin wants to give a “bird’s eye view of what people are cooking at home, in places large and small … I’m really excited about using food to tell the story of American cooking at every level.”
That feels especially relevant in the current political climate, which Tipton-Martin would like to approach with a spirit of healing. “I’m going to be living out the philosophy articulated by James Beard. Food is our common ground, and that’s been a characteristic of my entire body of work,” Tipton-Martin says. “When we break down the stereotypes that divide us, we have an incredible opportunity to share our love of food.”
In addition to working on its bimonthly 275,000-circulation magazine, Tipton-Martin will be tasked with developing and even starring in new television and podcast projects, which will be able to ramp up more in earnest once coronavirus-related travel restrictions ease. “We’re viewing Toni’s role as very much a public role,” Bishop says.
Tipton-Martin’s hiring comes at a time when publications, especially in food media, are reckoning with racial disparities in their staffs and coverage, as well as accusations of unequal pay and toxic work environments. Recent months have seen internal and external scrutiny create upheaval at several major outlets, including the ousters of Bon Appétit editor in chief Adam Rappoport and Los Angeles Times food editor Peter Meehan, both of which occurred following Twitter threads published by Tammie Teclemariam, a freelance food and drinks writer. Bon Appétit recently named Dawn Davis, one of the few Black women at the upper echelons of the publishing world, its new editor in chief. She joins new executive editor Sonia Chopra, a food journalist and editor, most recently at Vox/Eater, on the magazine’s masthead. The Los Angeles Times has yet to name a new permanent food editor.
Tipton-Martin will be the first person of color to lead an America’s Test Kitchen publication as editor in chief. The brand’s other two editors in chief are Dan Souza of Cook’s Illustrated and Molly Birnbaum of America’s Test Kitchen Kids. This year, ATK announced a plan for increasing diversity on its staff and inclusion in its coverage, which sets a goal of increasing the number of BIPOC employees by 50 percent by the end of next year. When current Cook’s Country editor in chief Tucker Shaw announced he was leaving to focus on writing a novel, “I viewed this as an opportunity,” Bishop says. “We said we were going to do a better job here.”
“My appointment is long overdue,” Tipton-Martin says. “I would like to inspire the next generation of food journalists. We have lots of people who are doing great food writing and are terrific food essayists,” but she also hopes to use the show and overall Cook’s Country vision “to cultivate reportage.”
Tipton-Martin had visited ATK’s Boston office in February to talk about “Jubilee,” as part of ATK food stylist, cast member and podcast host Elle Simone Scott’s work “inviting people in to talk and share their knowledge with us,” Bishop says. Then, and now, Bishop saw the potential for a match.
“You meet her, and you feel she’s a natural teacher,” he says. “Our job is to teach and educate. That’s really what the brand is about.”