There was a good, long, profile of Christopher Kimball by Alex Halberstadt in the New York Times Magazine last week. Worth checking out if you are into Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen:
Inside the renovated Le Bernardin in Midtown Manhattan, the pink flowers are as tall as dogwoods and the latticework walls give off a coppery, sci-fi sheen, and Christopher Kimball, the most influential home cook in America, prods a fork into an appetizer of Wagyu beef, langoustine and osetra caviar from China. He pulls apart the cylinder and glances skeptically inside. “I’m happier eating at Di Fara,” he claims, meaning the slice parlor in an Orthodox Jewish section of Midwood, Brooklyn, that has been occasionally hounded by the city’s Health Department. “Just real pizza,” Kimball enthuses. “No duck sausage and crap.” It’s true that he appears out of place amid the restaurant’s boardroom-in-space décor; with his bow tie, suspenders and severely parted hair, Kimball looks like someone who might’ve sold homeowners’ insurance to Calvin Coolidge.
What he does cop to enjoying about Le Bernardin is the wait staff — the thick-necked Levantine men in black tunics who start at his merest gesture and address him as “Monsieur Kim-BALL,” making everyone at the table wonder, not entirely in jest, whether they’ve been made to take French diction lessons. Kimball appreciates their formality and sheer number — the service here impresses him as serious and old-fashioned, qualities he appears to value above all. You’d probably guess as much after paging through Cook’s Illustrated, the oddly Victorian black-and-white cooking manual that Kimball began 19 years ago and continues to edit and publish every other month. For covers he favors Flemish-style oil paintings of food and illustrates recipes with spidery pen drawings and boring fonts — a look Kimball based on an antique brochure for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, believing it would make the magazine feel, in his words, “authoritative and timeless.”
“Timeless” being the operative adjective — in the sense of paring away everything lighthearted, stylish or pertaining to the idea of the zeitgeist. It’s a truism that eating in the United States has changed more in the last 25 years than in the preceding 50. Since he got into publishing, in 1980, Kimball has watched the arrival of California nouvelle and Asian fusion, the farm-to-table movement, Whole Foods and the gourmet supermarket, convenience-store sushi, the celebrity chef and the contemporary urban foodie cum blogger, and he has managed to ignore them all. In simplest terms, Cook’s Illustrated focuses on preparing middlebrow American dishes at home with supermarket ingredients and omits everything glossy cooking magazines have come to be known for. If you are interested in recreating a Tuscan-style Passover feast or wonder what David Chang, the Momofuku Ko chef, thinks about contemporary art, Cook’s Illustrated may not be for you. You won’t find wine columns and lavish photography, travelogues about the street markets of Morocco or plugs for heritage microgreens and porcini-infused balsamics. Restaurants — the editorial protein of the glossies — have been entirely banished. There aren’t even ads. Most noticeably, the magazine dispenses with the tone that the critic Alexander Cockburn described as “cookbook pastoral” — the sense that the ideal dinner is a sit-down for 16 with candlelight and hydrangea and unbridled toasting, a pseudo-Mediterranean hedonism that precludes wailing toddlers and mismatched silverware. And nothing makes Kimball angrier than the aspirational pipe dreams marketed by the likes of Ina Garten and Bon Appétit. “I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party,” Kimball told me over a bowl of chicken-and-vegetable soup at his regular lunch haunt, a Brookline, Mass., pub called Matt Murphy’s. “Cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn’t anything glamorous about it.”