The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alumna Cecelia Jenkins Starring in America's Test Kitchen Documentary Series

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Leave no stone unturned. It’s a commonly used phrase, and Cecelia Jenkins ’09 learned this strategy throughout her time at UMass and, later, applied it to her career. This attitude of trying every course of action until success is found is a basis for her current project. As a senior editor on Cook’s Country magazine at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), Cecelia is starring in “The Test Cook,” a YouTube series documenting her quest to create the perfect Cuban sandwich recipe, including subsequent recipes for the traditional bread it’s made on and the mojo roast pork shoulder, one of the traditional sandwich meats inside.

A camera crew followed Cecelia for three months, capturing the trial-and-error process of researching, testing, and perfecting the sandwich. "We normally only present the polished final product," Cecelia explained, "but this time, we welcomed the viewer into the kitchen for the ups and downs in the whole process.”

Getting started, Cecelia dove into the history behind the Cuban sandwich. She tracked where each piece of the sandwich originated and the cultures behind them. She traced how the sandwich has evolved with the nation: Cuban workers influenced the bread and the pork, Spanish settlers brought the ham, Italian immigrants introduced salami, and Germans brought the mustard and the pickle. “The ingredients turned out to be this mashup of cultures that not only worked together, but represented what America is all about,” Cecelia said.

Researching the history of food in America is a big part of Cecelia’s job, and while tracking down the cultures behind the product, Cecelia relied on skills she honed from her time at UMass. She graduated from the Commonwealth Honors College with a bachelor’s degree in history and an expertise in storytelling.

“The writing, research, [and] deep-dive work ethic I learned as a history major translates so well to what I’m doing now,” said Cecelia. “It helped me be a good representative of the extreme lengths my company will go to tell the story of food in America, and then create a reliable product for the home cook.”

When she first entered college, however, Cecelia was unsure of the path she wanted to pursue. But she knew she wanted to join the Honors College. With an older sister already in the program, Cecelia gained early exposure to the rigorous work ethic required and opportunities offered there, and was determined to be a part of it (her younger sister would soon follow the path to CHC).

After acceptance into CHC, she quickly learned to balance her extracurricular, academic, and social responsibilities. As part of the women’s swim team and captain in her senior year, it took some time and discipline to adjust to her hectic schedule. But once she did, Cecelia walked away with a new sense of determination. “CHC enriched my exceptional education at UMass; I believe in public education and feel lucky to have attended such outstanding institutions, where I was exposed to agile, determined peers with can-do attitudes. Both programs shaped my confidence and work ethic.”  

While continuing this challenging workload, Cecelia completed a capstone project during her senior year. Further developing her investigatory and storytelling skills, she completed an oral history thesis on her grandfather’s supporting role in World War II as a drummer in the United States Army Band. While the program was demanding, she appreciated the opportunity for growth.

Post-graduation, she entered a field in which she had little connections, but had a solid foundation from CHC and UMass that she credits for enabling the pivot.

“Food was always something I came back to and felt accomplished in, but I had not seen it as a possibility until I got out into the real world and assessed what really made me happy,” said Jenkins. “I’ve mentioned the value of the education at UMass, but it compounded for me because afterward, I could swing culinary school and working as a line cook. I needed these things in order to pursue the career I desired in the food industry and the position of test cook at ATK, and I could manage the pivot financially as well as handle this new demanding field because I was no stranger to demanding environments.”

Once at ATK, she learned the voice of the magazine and began her current career developing and testing recipes, writing feature stories, and refusing to leave any stone unturned.

Cecelia is now earning a master’s in business administration from the part-time hybrid online program offered at UMass’s Isenberg School of Management. She is excited for this opportunity for professional growth and to apply the disciplines of business and management to the food industry and whatever the future may hold for her.

As she continues to pursue a bright future, Cecelia credits much of her success to her experiences at UMass and hopes to inspire current students to take advantage of the incredible value and experiences the school has to offer.

“I pushed myself at UMass because that was the environment I found there—everyone was pursuing these high goals. This set my standards during my formative years and gave me the confidence to take risks and put myself out there when I needed to. I was exposed to so many unknown interests and skills that I got to take into the world with me, which I think is exactly what college should do for all of us.”


Check out the documentary series and watch how Cecelia perfects the Cuban sandwich!