Food Fight! America’s Test Kitchen Sues Chris Kimball Over “Milk Street”


Chris Kimball’s new venture after parting ways with America’s Test Kitchen, called “Milk Street” looks suspiciously similar to Cook’s Illustrated.

Many terrible things have happened in 2016, from Donald trump getting the GOP nomination to the death of David Bowie and Prince. But in the world of home cooking, one of the most tragic stories this year has been the divorce of Chris Kimball and America’s Test Kitchen. The long-running, New England-based PBS staple was fronted by Kimball for the past 16 seasons, but no more. At the end of 2015 he and the company parted ways, in what sounded like a dispute over money.

At the time Kimball claimed he had no wish to compete with ATK, and would go off and do his own thing. Meanwhile, the show announced their 17th season would see Julia Collin-Davison and Bridget Lancaster, both long in Kimball’s shadow, moved up to co-hosts. It seemed like this would be an amicable divorce, much like the tone of the show has always strived for.

But sadly, that was not to be. A couple of weeks back, our Home and Food section was privileged to get a copy of the first edition of Kimball’s new magazine, Milk Street, which will be followed by a TV show in 2017. We did at the time, note to ourselves that the new magazine was somewhat similar to ATK’s companion publications Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, down to the same size and shape. But we mostly chalked it up to Kimball and the producers of the original show having the same New England background, and artistic sensibilities.

Top Image: Cook’s Illustrated, via AniBundel. Bottom Image: Milk Street, via Kalistrya.

Note the fonts are similar, but not exactly the same. As is true with the drawings which are simliar without actually being the same,. The illustrations are one of the more unique aspects of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. (Hence the title!) The same sort of arty photographs, in the same style, are in both as well.

Apparently these similarities are too much for America’s Test Kitchen, who announced yesterday they will be suing Kimball for “literally and conceptually ripped off America’s Test Kitchen.”

According to the Boston Globe, everyone is very disappointed about this.

"“He kept on saying he wasn’t going to compete,” said Jack Bishop, chief creative officer at America’s Test Kitchen. “I took him at his word. I think everyone on the board was taking him at his word.”In particular, Bishop said the Milk Street magazine bears a striking resemblance to Cook’s Illustrated, right down to its 32-page size.“Seeing the physical magazine was the last straw,” said Bishop, referring to the magazine’s release this fall. “It feels hauntingly familiar because it is hauntingly familiar.”"

Complicating matter is the fact that Kimball still has a minority share in ATK, which basically means he’s suing himself. ATK apparently cites his remaining on the board as part of the “good faith” break up they were having, or at least, thought they were having.

One thing the company does not cite in their suit though: any sort of written non compete clause. The lack of mentioning one suggests there might not have been one, and that leaves them with less of a leg to stand on than they might have originally had.

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Kimball’s lawyers did not comment, saying they had not seen the lawsuit yet, and were unable to respond. The Globe notes this is actually the second lawsuit Kimball has faced for his new venture. Originally he titled it “Milk Street Kitchen”, and was sued by the Milk Street Cafe, which is a restaurant and catering business in downtown Boston. (Milk Street, for non-history nerds, is one of the most famous streets in Boston, and the one Ben Franklin was said to be born on.) Kimball has since dropped the “Kitchen” from the name, but Milk Street Cafe has not dropped the suit.