Since joining America’s Test Kitchen in October as chairman and CEO, David Nussbaum has been looking for ways to expand the Boston-area book publisher and multimedia company. Best known for its eponymous public television show and its Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, ATK publishes about 14 books annually.
Given Nussbaum’s background in creating verticals at F+W Media, which he headed for eight years before leaving in the fall, it’s not surprising that he’s growing the much smaller ATK with the addition of a new vertical, Cook’s Science. The idea behind it grew out of the success of ATK’s bestseller The Science of Good Cooking, which has sold more than 300,000 copies since its publication in fall 2012. A follow-up, called simply Cook’s Science, is due out in October.
Though ATK has long promoted the link between food and science, it has begun placing a greater emphasis on that connection as it readies the new platform. Last month, ATK announced its first partnership in conjunction with the new vertical—a monthly spot with Cook’s Science executive editor Molly Birnbaum on The Splendid Table, a nationally syndicated public radio program. In the March/April issue of Cook’s Illustrated, a letter from the editors invites readers to “come along with us as we continue to explore the everyday magic that is cooking with science.”
During a recent visit to ATK’s offices, Nussbaum, Elizabeth Carduff (editorial director of the books program), and Jack Bishop (recently promoted to chief creative officer) spoke about Cook’s Science. The vertical will serve as an umbrella for multiple new books; a free digital magazine, which will include video content and will be available this summer; and a TV show that is currently in the works. Live events on the science of taste and smell to promote both the new book and magazine are planned for the fall.
Nussbaum also noted that the new vertical could net the press something else: a younger demographic. ATK’s readership falls in the 45–60 age group. “I don’t think we need new markets. We’d like Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country to reach larger markets and different demographics,” Nussbaum said. He expects the new vertical to appeal to millenials who want to cook at home and are concerned about what’s in their food.
A new vertical isn’t the only thing that Nussbaum is prepping at ATK. He’s also planning to move the 2,500-sq.-ft. test kitchen located in Brookline Village, Mass., to one that is quadruple the space, 10,000 sq. ft., in the heart of Boston. The company has maxed out its current space with 60 people working in the test kitchen. The book division alone, with a staff of 23 people, has a combined 12 test cooks and food editors in the kitchen at any one time.
A larger test kitchen will also enable ATK to provide more video content for its books and on-site photography—1,000 photographs alone for its first bread book, Bread Illustrated (Sept.). And it will allow the company to continue to foster the collaboration process that has been integral to the way its recipes are produced, with one person cooking while others critique the steps and the finished food. Recipes are tested as many as 50 times, Nussbaum said, noting “this company is first and foremost about quality.”
The collaborative approach has let ATK move its cookbook program from 50% archival content five or six years ago to almost entirely original content for books on new topics, including Naturally Sweet: Bake All Your Favorites with 30% to 50% Less Sugar (Aug.). Though cookbooks based on its shows reuse recipes in the archives, in general, Carduff said, “the mix definitely skews to a much higher proportion of new, because we are tackling harder, newer topics.”
Late last year, ATK switched its book distribution from an in-house operation to Penguin Random House Client Services. “We’re leveraging [PRH] to make sure Amazon has books every day,” Bishop said, “and to reach independents and get an international audience.” The company is also looking at licensing its video and at creating new lines of books with new formats.
This fall ATK will publish the first two books in a new Cook’s Illustrated best of series: All-Time Best Appetizers and All-Time Best Soups. Both are unjacketed hardcovers with 75 recipes and new photography, each priced at $22.95. The book division is also working on a new line of equipment-based books to help cooks make the most of the equipment they already own or are considering purchasing—such as food processors and electric pressure cookers. The books will be published as paperback originals at lower prices, with the first set to release in spring 2017.
To keep up with ATK’s ambitious plans, Nussbaum said that he will add another 30 people to the staff, which currently numbers 185. The new hires will be throughout all departments, including the kitchen, social media, and finance. Nussbaum’s job also has him doing something new at home: cooking. Unlike his predecessor, company cofounder Christopher Kimball, a respected chef, Nussbaum never cooked prior to joining ATK.