At Food & Wine, we pride ourselves on always looking ahead. But, just this once, I’m going to use this space to look back as I step down as editor in chief after 21 years. To assist me in this daunting task, I asked my friend Mario Batali to conduct an exit interview, excerpted below (the photo of Mario with Jimmy Fallon and me is from one of my favorite F&W stories ever). But I’ll stay connected with this incredible brand and with you, dear reader, as I head to Chefs Club by Food & Wine, a restaurant concept created in partnership with F&W. At its locations in New York and Aspen, Chefs Club curates the best chef dishes from around the country and the world on one great menu. Please stay in touch; I’ll forever be @fwscout!
MARIO: Do you think back on trends that you’re embarrassed you championed in Food & Wine?
DANA: I’m more embarrassed by the trends I missed. About 10 years ago, I was at a culinary school giving a talk and afterward some brave person in the front row asked, “So, do you publish any vegan recipes?” And I said, “No. You know, we’ve just never found any vegan recipes that we like.” And she said, “You just wait. I recently published a vegan cookbook with some of the best chefs, and they have really good recipes.” And I was like, “No way.”
MARIO: Besides the size of your expense account, what has changed the most about Food & Wine?
DANA: Over the past 20 years, the rate at which we’ve introduced new ideas has sped up. Change in the food world used to be slower, and now I feel as if there’s something new every single day.
MARIO: What about the dreaded task of putting the magazine to bed. Did that get any easier?
DANA: Closing issues got a whole lot easier. Over the 20-year arc I went from being a complete and total control freak to just being controlling.
MARIO: That’s because you hired the right people. Having really great editors, photo editors, designers—it takes the pressure off you, yet the pressure’s still on you.
DANA: It’s about really giving the talented people more room to run, and sometimes doing things differently than what I had in my mind’s eye, in a way that’s even better—I love that. I love when someone on the team comes back to me and says, “OK, I understand what you want, but here’s how we can take that idea much further.”
MARIO: Would you say you can classify, over the past 20 years, several eras of food styles?
DANA: There was the moment the pig was invented, and we all noticed. And there was the moment that vegetables were invented, and we all noticed. Same with foraging, fermentation and other preservation techniques. It’s sort of crazy because, of course, all these things existed forever.
MARIO: Since the planet started. OK, to change the subject: How many nights a week do you eat out?
DANA: I eat out two nights a week. The other nights, when I’m home, I probably scrounge around for something to eat in my refrigerator since I’ve usually tasted Test Kitchen recipes all day. The food arrives on my desk every two hours or so.
MARIO: If you were talking to a young Dana Cowin, what would you tell her to do and not to do?
DANA: I’d say, no matter what, stay true to who you believe your readers are. There’s so much pressure in so many different directions and, at the end of the day, if you’re not satisfying those readers—if they’re not cooking recipes, if they’re not getting the information they want—then you are never going to succeed. Don’t get lazy. Don’t think you’re ever done. You’re never done. It’s never perfect. It can always be better. And it constantly needs to evolve.
MARIO: So, you’ve been in the food industry for over 20 long, strong, powerful, influential years. What do you think will be your legacy?
DANA: I am the original chef fan girl, and my team has enthusiastically embraced that vision. We have helped usher in the era of chef and restaurant obsession by relentlessly showcasing the best of the new.