'America's Test Kitchen' Is Better Without Christopher Kimball

It's been a little over a year since Chris Kimball abruptly departed the company he founded, Cook's Illustrated, and its associated TV shows, America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country. There were enough episodes of both shows in the can to get through 2016 without any changes, but when the new season of America's Test Kitchen returned last month, Kimball was gone. And we're just going to come out and say it: Without Kimball, the show is much better.

In its original incarnation, Kimball briefly introduced the show's theme and then joined each of the two co-hosts, Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster (or the occasional supporting player), for separate cooking segments. He'd engage in some light banter as Davison and Lancaster prepared their dish, and would occasionally take an aside to explain a chemical reaction or something scientific if required. He'd also serve as guinea pig during Jack Bishop's taste tests, trying samples and decreeing the winner.

Kimball's presence wasn't ever exactly off-putting or threatening, but he always came across as "the boss," and he rarely, if ever, actually cooked anything himself. Even though he'd occasionally don a silly costume to set up a segment, he came across as relatively dull and humorless, and served as somewhat of a foil for the upbeat and bubbly Davison and Lancaster. He was "the voice of authority," but the supporting cast had all the authority it needed.  

Since Kimball departed, Davison and Lancaster have taken over all of his on-air duties, and in the few episodes that have aired so far this season, it's a marked improvement. The duo, who had never appeared on the show together but had a history dating back to the first season in 2001, is now cooking together, and they have an easy, friendly rapport that lends the show a lighthearted tone. They're on equal footing (Kimball's presence had an uneasy "the boss is watching" air to it), and they genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves and each other's company. Kimball's departure also leaves an almost entirely female cast, which is also great to see.

You know how when your boss is out of the office, your workday gets a little bit easier and your mood improves a little, even though you're getting the same amount of work done? That's what America's Test Kitchen has become since Kimball left. The recipes are tested just as rigorously and are prepared with the same attention to detail as before, but everyone on camera appears to be enjoying themselves just a little bit more.