Dana Cowin needs little in the way of introduction - she has been Food & Wine's Editor-in-Chief since 1995. Among other things in this interview, find out what food and baseball have in common, Dana's pick for America's most underrated food city, which TV food competition was most fun to judge, and what question you should never ask a chef, or her.
Before Food & Wine you led at Mademoiselle, HG Magazine, and Vogue. Now you've been at Food & Wine for 15 years. In what ways do you see the food landscape shifting?
The food landscape has changed significantly in the last 15 years—and all for the better. Food has become a national obsession that rivals baseball and even has some of the same hallmarks: we become hard-core fans of certain chefs, we go to all their restaurants, both "home" and "away," we watch them on TV, we try out a few of their moves at home. If only there were chef "cards" I'm sure we'd try to collect them all!
What is your favorite food city at the moment?
My favorite food city is New York. It's predictable, I know, but I also think it's indisputably true. The diversity of the restaurant scene is extraordinary--there are excellent offerings from the cart food to the four star chefs' food. There are people who say the Italian food is better here than in Italy; and the best Thai restaurant in the country (Lotus of Siam from Vegas) just opened here. And then there are the great coffee bars—so many micro-roasters and brewing obsessives I've lost count, and talented mixologists like Jim Meehan at PDT, and shops like Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's Eataly. Even the street vendor selling apples is selling four varieties.
What is the most underrated food city in the country do you think? The world?
Los Angeles is the most underrated food city in the country. People still don't take it seriously—they seem to think that all the locals are on juice fasts. But LA started two of the big new trends: pop up restaurants like LudoBites and Korean tacos. There are also very talented chefs there: Nancy Silverton at Mozza, José Andrés's crew at Bazaar, David Myers at Sona.
What restaurant that you haven't visited yet are you most looking forward to going to?
I'm really looking forward to going to Noma. I've booked a flight to Copenhagen in early December. My ardor is apparent in the timing: the freezing cold dead of winter is not the best time to go to Northern Europe. But I do think it will show Rene Redzepi at his absolutely most creative.
Food & Wine will be deciding on Best New Chef Awards for the 23rd time. What can you tell us about the process of selecting these chefs that might surprise us?
The most surprising part might be that we don't accept suggestions from anyone outside our group of approved nominators. Chefs are given demerits if they have a PR person lobbying on their behalf. We also are open to any chef doing original, game-changing food from food trucks to haute cuisine.
What's something about Food & Wine that you don't think gets enough attention?
We get a lot of attention of our coverage of chefs, but our own test kitchen deserves huge recognition. Their recipes rock! We also have spectacular events, a wine guide, a wine club, a cocktail book, iPad apps, a super loyal Facebook following and a new cookbook called "Reinventing the Classics," which might be my all-time favorite book we've ever done.
What do you think is the coolest thing about the new Food & Wine app?
That's tough since there are so many things I love! Maybe the coolest thing is in the story "Chef Recipes Made Easy" that lets you click between photos of the restaurant dish and the simplified version for the home cook. It allows you to understand both points of view. Or maybe it's the 70-year retrospective of art on Mouton Rothschild's wine labels.
What question should you never ask a chef?
Chefs get asked the same questions over and over. So I try to avoid any question you know they've been asked a million times before like what's your guilty pleasure.
What's the food item you're most proud of having snuck back into the States?
Raw cheese. It was so stinky, the person next to me on the plane asked to move seats. I couldn't believe that security dogs didn't sniff it out.
What's the most interesting thing about food that you've learned on Twitter?
I've learned that there are so many different types of foodies out there—the avid cooks, the cookbook aficionados, the restaurant trackers, the food-news junkies, the photo snappers, the competitive diners, the chef followers. They are all equally passionate and fascinating.
Who in food journalism is doing something that deserves more attention?
There are incredible books being published at a time when it seemed like there might have been cookbook fatigue. I'm intrigued by Nathan Myhrvold's upcoming "Modernist Cuisine." I loved Gabrielle Hamilton's beautifully written autobiography, out this March. I'm looking forward to "Mission Street Food" by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz. It’s the first of the as-yet-unnamed McSweeney’s food imprint.
What is the go-to dish that you make at home?
I have just a few dishes that my entire family will eat whenever they're put in front of them: stir-fried tofu with edamame, ginger and soy sauce. And The World's Simplest Pasta: fusilli with excellent olive oil (I'm constantly trying new ones. This week it's Planeta's), flaky sea salt, cracked pepper and grated cheese.
What's the question you get that you most wish would go away?
I like answering questions, so I can't say I take offense at any of them. But if I had to pick it would be: How do you stay so skinny?