The Interview: ATK Cohosts Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison
After three years together as cohosts of America’s Test Kitchen, the ebullient stars dish on their humble beginnings in television, what they don’t like about each other, and the long overdue case against kale.
When Bostonians need to know how to debone a duck or make a tasty New Year’s Day brunch, most eyes turn to America’s Test Kitchen’s witty cohosts, Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison. With on-camera chemistry to spare, the two well-caffeinated, blond bundles of energy have been a roaring success since they took over the popular PBS show in 2017. Now, on the heels of celebrating the program’s 20th anniversary, the duo sat down with me in ATK’s impressive 55,000-square-foot headquarters at the Innovation and Design Building in the Seaport to talk about life and cooking—both on and off screen.
Happy 20th anniversary to America’s Test Kitchen! Where were you 20 years ago?
Bridget Lancaster: Oh, boy. I was hired as a test cook here. I was working in the Theater District as a pastry chef, and I was also working at Williams Sonoma because pastry chefs don’t make any money. A person that I worked with said to me, “Oh, we’re looking for someone.” She worked for Cook’s Illustrated at the time.
Julia Collin Davison: Twenty years ago, I was washing the dishes in the test kitchen. It was just a sink and a sponge and yours truly, washing dishes.
Fast-forward to today. Are people paranoid about cooking for you?
JCD: Yes. People do not invite me over. I was taking it personally for a while.
BL: It’s true. You don’t get invited to anyone’s home unless they work here. But our husbands are also in the food industry, so we both have cooks at home if we’re too tired to make something when we get there.
When you get home, do you ever just open a box of macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles?
JCD: Oh, yeah! Mac ’n’ cheese is a staple in my house. I have an 11-year-old, so that’s like the phone-in meal. Organic, of course. Bell & Evans chicken fingers are another go-to.
BL: I have no problem having cereal for dinner, if that’s what it comes down to, especially in the middle of the summer when it’s so hot. On our podcast, we recently had this whole philosophical argument about whether cereal can be considered a soup or not.
Do you two socialize outside of work?
JCD: Yes, I’m afraid to say I do hang out with this one a lot. We travel together a lot, too. We’re together more often than we’re not.
I’m guessing that’s where wine enters the picture.
JCD: Oh, yeah. I could show you videos. I have this particular one of Bridget from when we were on a plane heading out to the Emmys. The flight attendant recognized us and just kept slipping us glasses of wine.
Any weird fan encounters? Do you get death threats when something a fan is cooking doesn’t come out exactly right?
JCD: The comments I get are about my collar: Why is it popped up? Or my hair: Why’s it so long? Why is it so short? The negative comments I get are really quite vapid.
The kitchen is the heart of the home, so people must feel like you’re really part of their family.
BL: It’s not just that they know us, but they feel that we’ve helped them, and that’s a very cool thing. I was just down at Disney World with my son, and I got recognized at Epcot because it was their food and wine festival. There was Goofy, with a line of people waiting to take pictures, and within a few minutes there were 10 people waiting to take a picture with me. I was like, “I am not an attraction here, people!” But we get recognized more when people are in the mindset of food. I get recognized at the grocery store a lot, by people asking me to help them pick out a steak for dinner.
JCD: In the produce section, I’ve lectured on apples many times. Someone will ask, “Which apple should I use for a pie?” Before you know it, there’s a bunch of people listening. The guy at the deli counter has been there forever at my local Roche Bros., which is my favorite store. I order the tuna salad because it’s amazing, and he’s like, “I know who you are, and I know you know how to make this.”
What’s the thing that people waste time or energy making at home that they’d just be better off buying?
JCD: Bread. Unless you like to make bread.
BL: I was going to say bread, too. The thing is, it’s not that you can’t make it well at home, but picking up a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods gets your dinner on the table a lot quicker.
Anything that you can’t believe people buy prepared? I appreciate that they have seeded pomegranates at the supermarket, but right next to it there’s guacamole, and I think, How lazy do you have to be to refuse to mash up an avocado?
JCD: I’ve bought the guacamole. It’s almost always terrible because they’ve added citric acid or something. But tuna salad, I always buy. Brownie mix. I never make brownies from scratch. I mean, it comes in a box. My daughter can do it for me. It’s so easy.
BL: I would add ice cream to that list.
How has your audience changed in terms of their expectations over the past 20 years?
BL: Now, we’re including a lot of different foods that even 20 years ago maybe weren’t at the forefront of Americans’ minds. The “international” aisle has grown. People are more adventurous and willing to try new things. I think another trend, and I’m hoping that we’re going to get away from it, is that the focus has to be on it looking pretty for pictures.
JCD: Supermarkets today are not what they were 20 years ago, or even five years ago. You didn’t use to see gochujang, and now there’s a whole selection of it, and because those things are available, people want to know what you can do with them. The other thing is health. If you look at the top 10 cookbooks over the past couple of years, they’re either by celebrities or health driven.
Any food trends that you’re really sick of?
JCD: Yeah, there are some things. Crudo. I love a good crudo, but I don’t need it on every restaurant menu in America.
What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?
BL: Besides my husband? I would say a good kitchen knife is my favorite tool. And I always love my microplane, my zest grater. I use it for everything.
JCD: For me, it’s my rice cooker. We have rice every other day, and it just comes out perfect every time. The other thing I love is kitchen towels. I have three different types: microfiber squares for cleaning the counter, big flour-sack towels for drying dishes, and then smaller, thicker cotton towels that are for hands.
Any chance you guys are going to do episodes devoted to cooking with weed?
BL: Sure. But that’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? You’re cooking with weed and then you get hungrier. Actually, getting the dosage right would be the hard part. Also, are you doing it in butter? Are you doing it in coconut oil?
JCD: The problem I see is that a lot of these things are sweets, and they’re very kid friendly. And that’s just…you just don’t want that in the house because someone could get hurt.
Are your kitchens at home insanely tricked out?
JCD: Mine’s tiny!
BL: Mine’s not as tiny because we broke down the wall between the dining room and our kitchen, but I still live in a small one-and-a-half-story Cape, so it’s not exactly big.
Who’s the person, living or dead, maybe even fictional, you’d most like to cook for?
JCD: I play this game in my head all the time, the dinner-party game. My husband and I choose six people, and the ones who are always on the list are David Bowie and Iman. Always.
BL: Well, I’d like to take a crack at Jesus. I’ll bet that Last Supper wasn’t very good.
What’s the grossest thing you ever ate?
JCD: Probably a fish eye. It was really rubbery. I don’t think it was meant to be eaten. I just kind of did it.
BL: I hate beets. Despise them.
JCD: And the funny thing is that everyone tries to get her to eat them.
BL: They act like it’s the law: You have to like beets. I want to like them. I’ve tried them all different ways. I even grow them every year. There’s just this gag reflex that comes out. They taste like dirt. People are like, “Oh, they’re very earthy.” I’m like, “Exactly.”
Any foods where you think, Okay, when did kale hire a publicist? Enough already.
BL: Oh, I’ve been over kale for a very long time. I am very pro collard greens. I think they’re much more delicious. But I’m like, “Yeah, why is kale getting all this attention?” I’m a contrarian, so if something gets trendy, I’ll start not liking it.
JCD: There’s a doctor out there promoting celery juice, and it takes a whole head in your juicer to make any amount of celery juice, and you have to drink it right away. So now organic celery is more expensive than caviar.
Something you don’t enjoy cooking?
JCD: I don’t like making cakes. I don’t really like eating cakes. I don’t like cake.
BL: Probably chicken breasts. I don’t get it, just because of all the things you have to do to make them taste like anything.
Do you have a guilty pleasure? McDonald’s? Taco Bell?
JCD: Yeah, all of them. I haven’t been in a while, but definitely. Oh, and pizza. I love pizza. Even bad pizza is fine with me. Frozen pizza. Stouffer’s French bread pizza can be a day old and I’ll still eat it. I actually did a Ho Hos tasting with my daughter. We were driving somewhere and she said she’d never had one. I was like, “Wow. Major parenting fail on my part!” So we did a taste test. We bought all the different brands, and we found that Drake’s Yodels were the best.
BL: I don’t ever feel guilty about food, so I just have pleasures. I love McDonald’s vanilla cone. I love any soft-serve ice cream. Dairy Queen, definitely. I love Eggo waffles.
What irritates you about each other?
JCD: What bugs me about Bridget is she knows exactly how to push my buttons to get me to laugh at inappropriate times. We’ve had to shut down production because I’m crying. For her, it’s like a game.
BL: I’m evil. Sorry about that. I adore Julia. I would say maybe the only thing that bugs me is that I’m jealous of her knife skills. She can get things done in half the time that I can in the kitchen.
JCD: I also drive really well.
BL: We are Thelma and Louise on the road.
What are your favorite restaurants in Boston?
JCD: I love sitting at the bar at No. 9 Park. I also love B & G Oysters. Also, I’ve been eating a lot at Chickadee, which is just downstairs, and it’s amazing.
BL: Menton is just amazing. It’s fancy food. And I love Eastern Standard because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I also love Oleana.
What’s the single biggest thing that most people do wrong in the kitchen?
BL: Starting to cook before they’ve looked through the recipe, or they don’t do a little bit of prep…
JCD: …So things start burning because they don’t have the next ingredient ready. Also, I think people have trouble knowing when things are done. Guessing at the doneness of meat is for amateurs. Just get a thermometer. It’ll immediately step up your game.
Is there a silver bullet in the kitchen? Something that fixes things no matter how badly you’ve screwed up?
BL: Never tell anybody what you’re cooking until it’s finished. That way, you can rename it if you have to. “It’s Cajun. It’s blackened. Really, I swear I didn’t burn it.”
JCD: The silver bullet for me is just turn it into hash. Whatever it is, just chop it up, throw an egg on it, and you’re good to go. That, and gravy. Just put some gravy on it.