For decades, Christopher Kimball — he of the bow tie and lovable-curmudgeon persona — has been inextricably linked with Cook’s Illustrated, the venerable magazine he founded, and America’s Test Kitchen, the public television series and cookbook empire that grew out of it.
After a split from the company in 2015, Kimball, 65, started a new venture, Milk Street Magazine, named after its home street in Boston. It debuts Tuesday with a fall issue, and regular publication will start with the March/April edition. The magazine has a mix of features new (full color, book reviews, drinks coverage) and familiar (recipes, equipment reviews). Television and radio shows are in the works.
We spoke with Kimball about the magazine and his evolving approach to home cooking. Edited excerpts follow.
After building one magazine, why do it all over again?
My cooking has changed a lot in the last few years. Most of my cooking was based on Northern European cooking. It’s very meat-centric. But the rest of the world didn’t have a lot of meat; the way they built flavor wasn’t the old-fashioned, technique-oriented use of heat. It’s brighter, more individual flavors. It’s just a whole new way of thinking about cooking.
The other thing is, I’m much happier with 25 or 30 people. I like start-ups. I like being involved with everything. I don’t love running a company with 200 people and just going to meetings all the time.
What is the “new home cooking” you promote on the cover of the magazine?
You can more easily produce bigger flavors in more interesting food. I’m an old Deadhead who thinks in music terms. It really is about the key and the bass line and the melody and the chords.
Take Yotam Ottolenghi’s food. Maybe that’s a little far afield for a lot people, but if you look underneath all of that, what he’s doing, there’s a lot of contrast there. There’s creamy, there’s crunchy, there’s bitter. There’s a little bit of sweetness that’s put in. It’s complex in that it’s more varied, but it’s not necessarily harder.
How has your recipe inspiration changed?
In my prior iteration, which lasted 35 years, there would be no starting point outside of the kitchen. That is, we’d take oatmeal cookies or whatever, and we’d just say, “Okay, how can we make the best version of it?” But we weren’t starting somewhere else in the world. With Milk Street, I think, we’re always starting someplace outside of Milk Street. We’re trying to tell the story to give a little bit of context. We’re trying to travel to actually go learn something.
Could you have created Milk Street sooner and without Cook’s?
No, I couldn’t.
Think of it this way: If you look at music or fashion, they’ve done this already. Everything’s a mash-up. The supermarkets have done this. And restaurants have done this. Every other place in the food world — newspapers, on television shows, etc. — this mash-up has happened already. It just hasn’t happened at home, and it couldn’t happen at home, because there was no big Amazon 20 years ago, and the supermarkets had limited stuff. I think the audience is just at the watershed moment when we’re going to look back in five or 10 years and go, “What were we thinking? Why did it take so long?” People thought of using techniques from other places as gourmet, ethnic, hobby cooking, and that’s not true at all. You sit down at the table with somebody and take a technique back with you. You’re not actually replicating a recipe.
Are you enjoying writing more and being back in the kitchen?
I think any business, if you’re not close to the customer or the content, if you get too far away from it — I just think it’s a mistake. When people come up and say they’re really grateful because they’re a better cook, that’s a big deal for people. Being a good cook is not a small thing, and that connection with a customer is really important. It’s very gratifying, and so I just want to be closer to that connection.
Anyone can request the charter issue of Milk Street Magazine free at 177milkstreet.com.The current discounted subscription rate is $19.95 for one year (six issues).
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly used the word “baseline” instead of “bass line.” This version has been updated.