The fact that Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine since 1995, has gone so long without letting it slip that the magazine’s top dog had no idea how to cook is a feat in of itself. Think about how many endless interviews with world-famous chefs, panels, demonstrations, and the sheer volume of content has been overseen by someone who, by her own admission, knows a lot about food but knows next-to-nothing about how to make it. It’s kind of astounding.
And in lieu of keeping that fact that she had no idea how to cook under lock and key any longer, she admirably exposed her secret to a hand-selected group of what amounts to 65 of the best kitchen talent in the world, and simply asked them to help her learn.
The result, Mastering My Mistakes In The Kitchen, ($34.99) released earlier this month, and she’ll be at Northeastern in November with some familiar Boston faces.
So, why let the cat out of the bag now?
Having been at [the magazine] for 20 years, I decided it wouldn’t damage the relationship I have with chefs and readers. And at the same time [get] great tips and recipes I could share with a whole new audience.
Biggest takeaway from the whole experience?
That the culinary and human condition are one in the same. Cooking is less about technique as it is who you are as a person. You actually need to say to yourself and say i’m going to do this and only this for next half hour, and then if you’re really present in the moment while following instructions in recipe, patiently, you’ll have something good at the end. In the end, it revealed that I’m quite impatient, often unfocused. and I don’t like to practice. (laughs). That’s a good reflection. I didn’t like school and studying, I was just very intuitive. But you can’t be an intuitive cook if you’re not practiced.
You worked with some pretty amazing Boston talent. Kristen Kish (Menton), Ming Tsai (Blue Dragon), Joanne Chang (Flour Bakery).
Yeah, and I had [already] admired them for what I have eaten in their restaurants. But learning from them showed me what great teachers chefs need to be, so, at least for a moment, I got to be a line cook for them. All of them have such a deep knowledge.
Ming has a lot of magic and mystery [about food] he can reveal. Kristen [showed me] cooking is paying attention to flavor first, and time/perfectionism second, and I loved how practical Joanne was. She reminded me you don’t need 10 years in the kitchen to cook.
What’s the key thing a novice can look to your book for?
The key here is desire, and looking at what is holding you back from cooking, and about shutting up that voice in your head saying “I’m not good at this.” If you have that voice, you may as well never pick up a knife.