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Dana Cowin is Speaking Broadly

“I live in a constant quest for innovation and discovery. It turns out, there’s a swath of people in this world who are built this way. We’re built to always be interested in discovery, and that is the single driver of mine: to find people to champion, to help bring people to the next level. It is the greatest joy.”
- Dana Cowin

This week, we sat down with Dana Cowin, the longtime Editor in Chief at Food & Wine, the creator of Speaking Broadly (both a podcast, and more recently a zine), Giving Broadly, and a new coaching series held at Mast Market’s Upper West Side location called Cowin Coffee + Convo. You can sign up here for the first session, which takes place on Monday November 7 from 12:30-2:30pm.Dana has had a special presence within food media for many years, and she continues to lead with curiosity and passion in all of her projects (of which there are many!). From championing women-owned food brands across her platforms to providing a space for meaningful, personal stories from the culinary world, her work continues to inspire and shine a bright light on others. In a fun turn of the tables, today we shine a well-deserved light on Dana and all that she does. Enjoy our conversation below.

Mast Journal: From my experience with being in kitchens, the best word that I can use to encapsulate it is that it’s one of the most wholehearted places a person can be. What was the moment in your life when you realized kitchens and food were where you wanted to be?

Dana: [Laughs] Well, I love every single thing about food, from the people who make it, to the people who grow it, to the people who I eat food with. I’m not much of a cook, so the kitchen is a happy place for me because everyone is crowded around when I’m trying not to burn or over-boil something or have it fall out of the pot. So the joy probably comes from my earliest memory of it, when I got my first apartment, and I’d have these dinner parties with friends from the media world. I’d just tell everyone I knew to come to my place and bring their friends, and I’d put all this food out. But I will say, at the time it was less so about the food itself than it was the people gathered around.

Mast Journal: That feels very much like a Norah Ephron scene.

Dana: Well, I did just watch Heartburn recently! It brought me back to the center of Norah Ephron’s universe, which is a great place to be.

Mast Journal: So you wear many different hats, from podcaster, to career coach, to editor and creator of Speaking Broadly, your new culinary zine. Does it feel organic switching back and forth between all of those roles, or do you have to compartmentalize them, depending on what you’re working on that day?

Dana: I actually love working on five things simultaneously. It’s just an adaptation of my brain – one could say when I was at Food & Wine, I was working on editorial, then working with other people who do consumer marketing, then the ad sales team. So I’m used to switching around a lot. I love that it’s non-linear. That’s one of the great, great joys. I don’t think I’m particularly ADHD, but when I describe how happy it makes me, I’m thinking, “Maybe that’s why.”

Speaking Broadly, Issue # 1

Mast Journal: The Speaking Broadly Podcast was in existence long before you made it a zine – when did you realize it could thrive in a different medium?

Dana: I’d been doing the podcast since 2016, and I really loved talking to a variety of people and learning all about what they do, how they’ve gotten through it, what’s been challenging for them, and what’s been joyful. What I found after three years was that there were stories I wanted to get deeper into. With a podcast, there’s not necessarily the opportunity for that guest to come back. So there were particularly some women whose stories I just wanted to hear more of, and those are really the opening essays. Those were stories I’d had one sentence of in the podcast, and I wanted to hear so much more. That was the genesis of it. So in a way, the zine is a snapshot of the things I felt were meaningful to me that I felt were missing, and in the same place as some great cooking and some other great stories. Also, I just wanted to put them in print! I’d left Food & Wine and thought, “I’m never doing this again.” But it just called to me.

Mast Journal: I think it’s special because you have this physical material you can hold in your own two hands. There’s so much great content out there, but if you miss a post, or you miss the podcast of the week, oftentimes those things can get lost. So it’s wonderful that this zine can stand the test of time.

Dana: Speaking of standing the test of time, I created the zine in 2019, so pre-pandemic. I put it away for obvious reasons, and then the Creative Director Meagan Bennett, whose influence is on every single page, said, “I think we can still publish this!” I was like, “Are you sure?” The world had moved on, there was nothing about Covid in there. But I sent it out to relatively impartial people, and they all agreed it could still be published. Unlike traditional media, which is very topical and timelines are very important, I was intent on creating something that was timeless, and then I got to really put that thesis to the test by sending it out two years later.

Mast Journal: For the essays specifically, did you provide a certain prompt for your writers? They're beautifully told, and they span across a wide plane of material.

Dana: I knew I wanted to do something under the rubric of “Meals with Meaning.” What I didn’t know was whether they would feel comfortable writing it. It’s a lot to ask someone to go back and relive these personal memories. In the case of Zahra [Tangorra], she really wants to be a writer but hadn’t been published yet, so that was wonderful providing that opportunity. But so many of them are gifted writers, and I hope this is just the beginning for them.

Mast Journal: From my small experience of being around chefs, and from reading food writing and memoirs by chefs, they are such inherently great storytellers that it’s not a great leap for them to be great writers, too. They often go hand-in-hand.

Dana: It’s so true, and now that so much storytelling is on video, or on TikTok, or is being made directly to an audience, the way we pace storytelling is much more understood than it was before.

Dana in good company. Photo courtesy of Speaking Broadly.

Mast Journal: What is the most challenging part of what you do? This can be for a particular role, or it can encapsulate all of your roles.

Dana: I think the hardest thing is that everything I do has to be self-motivated. I don’t have a deadline that’s imposed by anyone else; if I decide not to do a second zine, there’s no second zine. If I want to do product reviews, I have to go find those products. If I want to do coaching, I have to go find those clients. So all of those things inspire me, but sometimes I pause and say, “If I did nothing today, nothing would happen.” Sometimes that pause is filled with anxiety, but sometimes that pause is filled with an enormous amount of excitement, too.

Mast Journal: What’s your favorite part about what you do?

Dana: I live in a constant quest for innovation and discovery. It turns out, there’s a swath of people in this world who are built this way. We’re built to always be interested in discovery, and that is the single driver of mine: to find people to champion, to help bring people to the next level. It is the greatest joy. I feel like every day, my job is to have conversations with people, and put more good work out in the world. The reason I started the podcast goes back to when I was at Food & Wine; I really missed talking to people and sharing their stories.

Mast Journal: As someone who interviews other people, I selfishly would love to know how you’ve learned to ask other people about themselves. Is it generally intuitive, or do you have goalposts you set for the conversation each time?

Dana: I like to think about an arc of an interview – where I want to begin, and what is the arc to where it ends? Sometimes it’s very obvious, because it’s chronological. But sometimes, I like investigating something that’s more of a subject, like the notion of memory or grief. Then I’ll know what marks I want to hit along the grief continuum. And sometimes people don’t want to follow that – people who are interviewed a lot, especially, don’t want to show up for a conversation about remembrance when they thought they were showing up for a conversation about a food product! Then, you switch tactics. But I do a ton of research, and I always know where I want to begin and where I want to end.

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