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Go Inside America’s Test Kitchen with a Culinary Arts Intern

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Americas-Test-Kitchen-Luciana-Lamboy-Culinary-Arts-Intern Luciana Lamboy is going through a stage in her life. No, not a mid-life crisis or an obsession with nitro cold brew or becoming a dedicated yogi. Rather, the Brooklyn native is taking part in what the restaurant world calls an internship. Pronounced stazhje, a stage is a cooking position or culinary arts internship in an established kitchen to gain hands-on experience, learn a new cuisine, and master new techniques. And, in terms of test cook internships, Lamboy has landed at a culinary mecca – America’s Test Kitchen.

Based in Boston, America’s Test Kitchen is home to two PBS shows (the titular ATK and Cook’s Country), two magazines (Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Science), an online cooking school, and more cookbooks than you shake a Microplane at. Their bread and butter is recipe testing with an awesomely nerdy foundation of understanding the science behind what make a good recipe good – and what can make it better.

Maybe you’ve run across the show on PBS where the hosts are explaining the Maillard reaction for searing meats, demonstrating the best technique for poached eggs, or waxing on what makes some chocolate chip cookies soft and chewy and others crisp and crunchy. In her day-to-day, Lamboy’s test cook internship responsibilities include helping perfect recipes for the book team, conducting research for further recipe development, taking grocery inventory, or assisting with prep and cleanup.

We caught up with the James Beard Scholarship winner and CUNY Kingsborough Community College graduate about her culinary arts internship and what she loves about working at America’s Test Kitchen. Surprisingly, she didn’t mention the leftovers fridge.

Q: How did you find your test cook internship?
A: I was working the line at a one Michelin star restaurant in NYC and was desperate to go into recipe development. When I searched online, America’s Test Kitchen kept coming up, and I quickly applied through their website. The process took about 3 weeks to be finalized. The application was fairly straightforward and the test kitchen manager was very eager to work with me and helped me with any questions I had throughout the process.

Q: What was the interview process like?
A: The interview process was a two-part process – one on the phone and the other via Skype. Once I finished my second interview, the Skype interview, it took about another week for them to provide me with an acceptance letter, but that was indicated during the second interview so I knew to wait around and what to expect.

Q: How does the recipe testing work?
A:
Testing recipes goes beyond that of recipe development. A test cook not only test recipes an average of 30-40 times, but must embody every aspect of that recipe and, in turn, tell a story. We take a recipe that may have been developed hundreds of years ago and put the America’s Test Kitchen stamp on it. I had the pleasure of working on the books team, and they are working on an “everything sauces” book. One may not think sauces to be complicated, but sauces are really the backbone of many, many dishes that we eat from sweet to savory. I worked on a Thai green curry sauce, containing many staple Thai ingredients, like Thai green chilies, lemon grass, ginger, cilantro, and coconut milk. I am of Jamaican and Puerto Rican descent so many of these ingredients are new to me, and it was amazing being able to put them together to make this flavor profile. I ended up final recipe testing it multiple times just to get it right, but once it was right, it was amazing.

Q: What do you love most about your internship at America’s Test Kitchen?
A: The people and the welcoming atmosphere. No matter the role or position of a person, I have never once felt less than, something that I feel many interns are used to. Everyone here treats each other with the utmost respect and for that I will go above and beyond to do my best here.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your internship?
A: Stepping out of my comfort zone. Such as baking and just cooking and making things I have never made in my life. I like the idea of a challenge and every day at ATK, there is a new challenge. And the best part about this is that even if you fail, you are able to try again.

Q: Failing is probably encouraged at a test kitchen! It means you’re doing your job. What is the most important thing you are learning, as it applies to your future job prospects in culinary arts?
A: I am learning, not only many different techniques and stepping out of my comfort zone, but I am part of a food media company. Food media and culinary production is something I am very much interested in so this is exactly where I should be at this time.

Q: You won a James Beard Scholarship to study and intern in Italy. What was that like?
A:
When I got word that I won, I cried. My grandmother who raised me died a week before and I knew it was her sending her last hope. It was the Tony May Scholarship and I got to go to the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. I had mixed emotions working in Italy. It was tough. I didn’t know the language, and for the first time in my life, I came to understand what it meant to be an outsider. The first restaurant I worked at was a small family-owned trattoria in the outskirts of Siracusa, a province in Sicily. Then I transferred to Turin, Italy, to a one Michelin star hotel, which was an absolutely amazing experience. From my time in Italy, I learned not only the essence of Italian cuisine, but I learned about myself and my limitations and that there really are none.

Q: What does a hands-on internship teach you that a classroom can’t?
A: It helps me to learn how to think critically and to interact with people from all aspects of life. I have to use my words to voice things. Something I have not done much of before.

Q: What personality traits do you think are most important for a culinary arts internship like this?
A: Respect, attention to detail, you must be present and willing to help. If you listen and take your time, you will succeed. Working at ATK has been a life changing experience and I am very happy that I came here. I quit my full time job to work for ATK and it was worth it all.

Connect with Luciana on LinkedIn and learn more about America’s Test Kitchen

 

SHELF HELP
Cookbooks and cooking technique books for culinary arts students.

Americas Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman Essentials-of-Classic-Italian-Cooking by Marcella-Hazan On-Food-and-Cooking-Science-and-Lore-of-the-Kitchen by Harold-McGee The Professional Chef by Culinary Institute of America