How She Got That Job: Product Tester

Amy Graves ’87 tastes and tests everything from raisins to pepper mills

by Christina Barber-Just

Amy GravesNAME  Amy Graves ’87, MEd ’89

SMITH MAJOR  English, with a minor in women’s studies

FURTHER EDUCATION  2007 graduate of the French Culinary Institute’s Classic Culinary Arts program

CURRENT JOB  Associate editor of tasting and testing at America’s Test Kitchen, publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines and their companion Websites

WHAT SHE DOES  As the number-two member of America’s Test Kitchen’s four-person tasting-and-testing team, Graves identifies supermarket ingredients and kitchen equipment worth rating; evaluates them on a scientific basis, using spreadsheets to crunch numbers; and writes up the results in articles for the magazines and Websites. For a recent review of kitchen shears, for example, she put the contenders through a battery of tests—quartering chickens, snipping herbs, cutting parchment, and so on—before naming Shun’s 1120M model as the best. She has also reviewed meat grinders, pepper mills, and springform pans, and done taste tests on golden raisins and high-end Berkshire pork chops.

CAREER PATH  Only after completing a master’s in elementary education at Smith did it occur to Graves that teaching grade school was “maybe the last thing in the world” she actually wanted to do. So she decided to move to Boston and put her undergraduate English major to use by working as a stringer at weekly newspapers. She moved up to bigger papers, eventually arriving at the Boston Globe, where she occasionally filled in for restaurant critic Alison Arnett. When the Globe downsized she took a buyout and used the money to enroll in the French Culinary Institute, an intense experience she likens to “culinary boot camp.” Her combined background in food and journalism helped her land a copyediting job at America’s Test Kitchen in 2008; she was promoted to her current position in November 2010.

WANT HER JOB?  Graves thought America’s Test Kitchen was out of her league, but the copyediting job offered an in, and her habit of hanging around the kitchen and showing up at tastings paid off in a promotion. So, she says, start low and aim high. “If you can talk them into letting you in the door, you are eighty-five percent there.”