After a seemingly amicable separation last year, things between America’s Test Kitchen Inc. (ATK) and co-founder Christopher Kimball have quickly, now publicly soured. ATK, the locally-based media company behind Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the television show America’s Test Kitchen, sued the celebrity chef and former employee in the Business Litigation Session on Halloween over Kimball’s new business venture, “Milk Street.”
Kimball had been with ATK since the early 1990s, as a senior executive and minority owner who acted, the complaint alleges, as the de facto general partner. According to the complaint, which contains highly detailed, stunning allegations gleaned from a “forensic” examination of ATK emails and Milk Street’s website, Kimball began conspiring with other employees to develop a competing business venture shortly after ATK appointed its new CEO in 2015. ATK terminated in late 2015 after it became aware of Kimball’s alleged planned competition. The complaint alleges that Milk Street’s striking similarities to ATK include a magazine, radio programming, and a public television show that focuses on home cooking recipes and techniques.
The complaint alleges a motley of claims typically filed against a disloyal fiduciary, including misappropriation of its customer lists and email addresses, recipes, media and business contract lists, and other proprietary information. In addition to Kimball’s new venture, the complaint names as additional defendants three other individuals (Mr. Kimball’s wife, executive assistant, and public relations consultant), whom it alleges aided and abetted Kimball’s breach of fiduciary duties by helping him obtain confidential information. ATK is seeking lost profits, unjust enrichment, forfeiture of paid compensation, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees (for violations of c. 93A). We’ll be watching this high profile case closely and report on any responsive pleading.