Dana Cowin is Food & Wine’s Editor in Chief and lead talent scout, searching out the best new ideas in food, drink, travel, entertaining, and style for the entire F&W brand, including magazine, web, tablet, social media, and books. Cowin’s first cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes, was published by Ecco in 2014. She is on the board of directors of City Harvest, a New York City hunger-relief organization, and Hot Bread Kitchen, an organization that helps train low-income men and women to join the culinary workforce. In 2012, she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in Food & Beverage in America. Cowin is an alumna of Brown University and lives in New York City with her husband and two children. To follow her eating and drinking adventures, find her on Twitter and Instagram at @fwscout.
What's Your NativeAdVice:
How did you get into the publishing industry?
I always knew that I wanted to do something with words. Originally, I wanted to be a fiction writer, but that seemed like a hard (impossible?) way to make a living. My college writing professor helped me get an interview at Vogue magazine with an alum, and boom! I got my first job the day I graduated. I was the lowliest of three editorial assistants in the features department, and I was responsible for expenses and lunch.
Tell us about Food & Wine. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the magazine?
When I came to F&W more than 20 years ago, I wanted to celebrate the idea of food as a lifestyle. Instead of simply a how-to guide for cooking and drinking, I envisioned a how-to guide for experiences. We've stayed true to that vision ever since. The exciting thing is that the world has caught up with this notion. And now everywhere you turn, you see interesting ways in which food has been integrated into the culture. Food & Wine is now also known for its excellent ability to scout talent and trends. We have discovered and reported on the biggest chefs and most significant movements, and showcased them in a beautiful way.
Assume the best.
Food & Wine's motto?
Bringing the best to wine and food lovers everywhere.
Your greatest success as EIC of Food & Wine?
My greatest success has been covering and highlighting up-and-coming stars of food and wine, helping to propel great talents into the world. We accomplish this with several platforms, but most significantly with our Best New Chefs award, given each year to chefs who have run their own kitchen for five years or fewer. We selected Nobu, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Dave Chang and April Bloomfield long before they were famous. The platform has since expanded to include People's Best New Chefs, where online voters choose best chefs in regions across the country. The Best New Chefs are also the foundation for our restaurant, Chefs Club by Food & Wine, an exciting project where the chefs' dishes are on the menu at our places in New York and Aspen.
Your advice to an aspiring editor/journalist?
Find a slice of a subject that you can own, that is authentically yours, something that no one else can cover in as compelling a way as you. That goes for everything from modernist technique to the foods of Soviet Georgia. Develop your skills for storytelling, and be sure that you learn to express yourself in every medium, from writing to photography to video, and experiment with all outlets from social media to print.
How do you motivate your employees?
I have the most incredible team and I'm intensely loyal to them. I'm in awe of their ability to scout trends and talent, to realize stories in original ways. I try to communicate my appreciation for their work and let them know that I'm on their side, that every problem has a solution. I also try to discover what each person's best talent is, and reshape the job around that.
If there was one food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Eggs and milk. If there were eggs, then there would also be chickens! And if there was milk, there would also be cows. I'd have tons of protein and so many delicious options.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I'm reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I'm fascinated by the unusual narrative structure and the extended metaphors. It's both thought-provoking and just a really good read. Also, H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. The writing is gorgeous.
Role model - business and personal?
In business, my role model is Christina Grdovic, publisher of F&W. We've worked together for 18 years, and I've learned so much from her. No surprise as she has sayings and philosophies for every situation, such as “love this job, love this team,” and she says it's always about 3 things - 3 is easy to remember: 3 wishes, 3 strikes, 3 little bears - it just works. She's built an amazing team. She thinks through every single problem and offers solutions. She's incredibly funny, smart, creative, visionary and feisty.
In my personal life, my role model is my mother. She's 84 and has a great sense of humor about herself. She is deeply loyal to her family and friends. And she devotes her time to creating opportunities for people to better themselves through education and culture.
Favorite travel destination?
I love to travel to dense or layered cities that allow for moments of discovery in food, art and design: Los Angeles, Nashville, Charleston, San Francisco, Paris, London, Istanbul. My next trip is to Rome.
What's next for Food & Wine?
We have amazing momentum in the brand, from exciting cross-platform initiatives like #howisummer, which reveals in print and on Instagram all of the ways chefs and other food obsessives spend time from June to September. Another highlight is #loveuglyfood, our much-covered campaign to help end food waste. It's so exciting to see the way each platform, from print to digital, video, social media and events, amplifies our message and can inspire people every day.