America's Test Kitchen: Feminism, With Sticky Buns

People, let's take a break from talking about politics. Let's have ourselves a little breather from talking parenting, too. Let's dive deeply into something, instead, which is all pure pleasure. Sticky pleasure, moist pleasure, yeasty pleasure...

Obviously I'm not talking about what you thought I was talking about. (Image Source)

That's right, we're going to talk about sticky buns, but only as a vehicle for something even sweeter and more satisfying than the heavenly amalgam of sugar, butter, flour, and time pictured above.

What, you ask, could be even better than that sticky bun? Why, it's feminism, of course! And friendship! And freedom! All good things, all currently on vibrant, giggle-inducing display in the current season of America's Test Kitchen.

It wasn't always this way with ATK, the most popular cooking program on public television. You'll probably remember Christopher Kimball, the iconic lanky, bespectacled, bow-tied host of the show in previous years. He was a good host, yes, and a clear explicator of food science and best cooking practices. He was also the show's founder, along with being the founder of the magazine Cook's Illustrated and the spin-off show Cook's Country. But I always felt that there was something stilted and off in his interactions with the show's co-hosts, perhaps because he was his co-hosts' boss.

Sure, Kimball was jocular and spoke with his subordinate co-hosts in a playful, mildly teasing manner. You could tell he thought he was projecting warmth and camaraderie in segments where he was supervising others' cooking. But it never quite rang true. You could tell from his co-hosts reactions that, while Kimball was given free reign to initiate teasing or jokes, they were expected to follow his lead gently and carefully with an eye toward him as their boss. He was, within the boundaries of the show, keeping a finger in everyone's metaphorical (probably sometimes literal) pies by starring in every segment as a facilitator, never as a cook. His job was to oversee his co-host's labor, to speak to the camera, and to make little jokes. His co-hosts' job was to perform the actual labor, to speak when prompted by Kimball, and to respond politely to his jokes.

It was like watching someone being watched by a judgmental boss. Even when everyone onscreen was smiling, I could see how the cooks were "managing up" by gamely following Kimball's lead.

And it worked. The show was good. It was wildly popular, and it taught regular folks how to make extraordinary recipes. But the awkwardness of watching Kimball and his team interact remained until he was publicly, controversially given the ouster in 2015. At the time of his departure from ATK, Kimball claimed that all was peaceful between him and the company he founded. Now, however, ATK and Kimball are both suing one another over the similarities between Kimball's new venture and his old one. Scandalous! Dramatic! Fascinating!

Or, it would be if I didn't have something vastly better to pay attention to. And that, my friends, is the new, improved, feminist utopia of the Kimball-less America's Test Kitchen starring Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison.

They love each other! I love them! We all love sticky buns! MATCHES MADE IN HEAVEN! (Image Source)

Both members of the show's cast (Kitchen? What DO we call the people in front of the camera on a cooking show?) since its inception, Bridget and Julia have long been my favorite contributors to America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country. For years they capably carried the show under Christopher Kimball's shadow, and now that it's gone they simply shine as the show's hosts.

Remember how excited we were 13 (!!!) years ago when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler began co-hosting Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live? And how excited they were to be there behind the anchor desk together, smart, badass women and best friends holding - nay, DOMINATING - the spotlight of a traditionally male venue? Without a whiff of melodrama, I proudly say that I felt alive the first time I saw two women hosting weekend update with unapologetic gravitas and brazen, incisive humor. I felt proud of those genius women making jokes on my TV screen, and that pride made the jokes a little brighter, the laughs a little louder, the satisfaction after Weekend Update was over a little deeper.

And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-eeeeee-IIIIIIIIIIIII will always love yoooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu... (Image Source)

Well, that's what it feels like watching Bridget and Julia take their rightful places at the head of the America's Test Kitchen table. But with knives. And flames. And delicious food.


These two are so contagiously giddy in their new roles that it's hard to watch them talking and cooking without breaking into a goofy grin of your own.

Need evidence? Watch any of these episodes available for free on the ATK website. Need even more evidence? Wait another week or two for Episode 7 of Season 17 to become available. This is the episode wherein Bridget and Julia make Sticky Buns. Or, more accurately, wherein they make love to the Sticky Buns they've made. It was while watching the two cooks luxuriate in the warm, soft, stickily yielding delights so genuinely and for so long that a casual viewer might begin to feel uncomfortable at such a public display of intimate pleasure that I found myself yelling at the screen, "WOMEN, THOU ART LOOSED!"

Seriously. Watch this trailer through to the end for just a snippet of how wonderful the Sticky Bun Incident is.

The show retains the high quality of cooking instruction and food preparation education that it always had, with the added bonus of being genuinely fun to watch. Gone are the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between the show's contributors and its former host. Here instead is an exciting collaborative spirit among the cooks, whose ranks have grown in this new season. Watching my first episode of the new season and marveling at the dramatic improvements under Bridget and Julia's direction, I commented casually to my Smartner that all we needed were some cooks of color on this overwhelmingly white show, and we'd be in business. Low and behold, the very next segment featured new castmember/cook Elle Simone changing the way I think about baked potatoes forever.* Perfection!

Welcome, Ms. Simone! Thanks for the yummy potato recipe! (Image Source)

I promise we'll get back to writing about parenting ASAP. And, without a doubt, we'll be back at the political grindstone even sooner. But for now, for you, go ahead and watch an episode or two of an exciting, unleashed, reinvigorated America's Test Kitchen. Even if you're not a cook, the sight of two happy, confident, highly-skilled, boss ladies clearly loving what they do so well.

Up top, women. Well done. (Image Source)

*She also has blue hair, founded a food entertainment business called SheChef, and is a former social worker. SHE FASCINATES ME. I may have a new favorite ATK member...