At a recent dinner party, Dana Cowin, the longtime editor in chief of Food & Wine, decided to whip up a tomato sauce and Korean chili pasta, along with an okra mustard seed and cippolini onion stir-fry and a cauliflower, Japanese turnip, and apple chopped salad for her guests.
And would you believe she used to be a terrible cook?
Cowin admits to having ruined every type of food in the past—from chicken and fish to bread—and screwing up every technique—grilling, broiling, and boiling, which might come as a surprise seeing as how her day job is editing a magazine about the most delicious foods and wines.
Her new book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes, chronicles her journey of starting over in the kitchen—and learning how to cook with some of the best chefs from Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Seamus Mullen of Tertulia to Mario Batali.
Despite her high-profile culinary status, “No chef had ever said, ‘Do you want to come cook with me?’ I think what they do is a miracle,” says Cowin. “I wanted to know everything.”
So, along with her dose of humble pie, Cowin’s now acquired tips that will help your kitchen skills, too. (Like why you should double your pans when roasting vegetables.) Here’s a look inside the ultimate foodie’s fridge and habits—from what she juices and why she’s hiding the salsa to why Cowin can’t resist shopping like a French housewife. —Molly Gallagher
Do you think it’s different to write about and taste food than to know how to cook it? It’s 100 percent different. Each one informs the other. Having eaten as much as I’ve eaten and at so many great restaurants, I have a great sense of flavor combinations and dishes that I might want to replicate. I’m constantly trying new things as an eater. That makes me a little more adventurous and makes me a little more confident as a cook.
It looks like there are tons of veggies in the crispers. Were you making anything in particular? I have a little bit of a problem. My problem is I cannot go to the farmers market without buying vegetables. I went to Daisy Hill Farm, which is upstate, I saw the butternut squash and I had to buy it. I had no plans for it. There are these gorgeous Tokyo turnips, too, and cipollini onions, I had no real need for them either. But I don’t come across them that often. I had to buy them. There’s a farmers market right outside my home in New York City, too. It’s almost as if food talks to me and asks me to take it home.
Well, I’m sure your produce found a good home. Is it important to you to shop by the farm stand calendar? It’s not important for my job that I cook, but it’s important for my job that if I cook, I always cook honestly, locally, and with the seasons. I like cooking with great ingredients and not doing a whole lot to them.
Do you ever garden? Yes, we have a garden at our house upstate. I make mistakes in the kitchen and the garden. My 11-year-old son grew a salsa garden with 1,000 peppers this year. Behind the milk in my fridge there is a jar of incendiary salsa. I have to hide it, so no one accidentally grabs it.
Ha, that’s awesome. Do you ever make juice? We’re juice fanatics. That’s what the pineapple and papaya are for. My husband, daughter, and son love to make juice. We have a juicer at the ready…and a blender. We’ll put chopped-up pineapple, papaya, strawberry, and bananas in.
That sounds delicious. Are there any lessons from chefs you feel you use more frequently? Yes, for example, one thing that happened to me in the past was when I’d roast veggies, the bottoms would burn before the tops. April Bloomfield [of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin Room] told me to double my pan, so you deflect the heat and reduce over heating the vegetables.
She also recommends cooking them with thyme garlic balsamic first before putting in the oven. Everything I’ve learned has made the food so much more delicious.
I’ll have to try that ASAP! Where do you food shop in the city? I am in a food mecca on the Upper West Side, there’s Zabar’s, Fairway. Sometimes I shop like a French housewife: I’ll get prosciutto for the week at one place, I’ll go to Barney Green Grass, then Juice Generation, and then go to the green market and be sure I have challah for the week. I don’t mind making specific stops for specific things.
That sounds like a nice routine. What’s in the Tupperware? My daughter has become a soup maker. Those are two stocks—one is a vegetable broth and the other one is a chicken broth.
What was your most recent dinner party and what did you make? The most recent meal that I made was with my daughter. We invited friends over and had a cook-off. We each had the same ingredients—pasta, eggplant, tomato, and cheese.
She made lasagna and I made a really robust tomato sauce and added a Korean chili pasta, so it had an umami flavor to it. I didn’t use the cheese. My daughter cooked the noodles in a vegetable broth, and she layered it with tomato sauce and eggplant.
I’m a pretty quick cook, so I also made an okra mustard seed and cippolini onion stir-fry and a cauliflower, Japanese turnip, and apple chopped salad. She won the cook-off. The tasters thought she brought tremendous creativity. She’s winning in the kitchen.
For more information, visit www.foodandwine.com and check out Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes