Earlier this winter, Powell’s hosted an author reading and conversation with Dana Cowin, the longtime editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, and Liz Crane, the author of Food Lover’s Guide to Portland. For Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, Cowin’s new cookbook, she worked alongside sixty-five of today’s greatest chefs in order to create over one hundred recipes. At the reading, I learned that each of her missteps was a lesson learned, but the real proof is in the pudding.
Here are some things I learned from the discussion, in chronological order:
- Cacao seeds are fermented during chocolate’s production process.
- There is such a thing as “artisanal chopping.” It is a random, imprecise form of cutting, say, a hunk of cheese, instead of chopping it in uniform sections.
- Liz has a couch on her front porch, and squirrels have taken to hiding nuts beneath said couch’s cushions. Liz breaks up the nut party when the couch gets too lumpy to sit on.
- Dana has never been able to duplicate the apple pie recipe from her childhood that had a crispy, flaky crust but soft, gooey apples inside.
- Don’t put a burning-hot pan on a Formica countertop.
- Liz has a lucky flask. It’s pink and has hot dogs on it.
- Dana has Iron Chef-like cooking competitions with her daughter. The two share their creations with family and friends in blind taste tests. Her daughter had an epic win with a technically incorrect batch of cauliflower soup that won the taste test fair and square.
- Liz asked Dana what sorts of changes she’d seen in her twenty years as editor in chief of Food & Wine. Dana said twenty years ago, there were only three magazines for foodies, but now almost all magazines dedicate a significant portion of their pages to food. There are now niches for food interests and, of course, there’s the internet. Online communities share their experiences and as Dana said, “We all trust each other more than the expert.” Dana herself doesn’t practice this, but she sees a clear trend toward this ideology.
- Dana said, “Food & Wine should be called Portland Monthly—we’re constantly writing about Portland.” She elaborated that the food movement in Portland is “personal” and “passionate.”
- When asked which recipes from her book she would recommend for chilly weather, Dana didn’t hesitate: the baked ziti or swiss chard and lentil with lemon soup. Both are vegetarian (as are a majority of the recipes in her book), and both are filling and warm.
- During the question and answer section of the discussion, a member of the audience posed a question about writing cookbooks not for chefs but for the home cook. Dana explained that most of the chefs she worked with were apt at explaining cooking to the novice. Interestingly, the question was posed by Marius Pop, owner of Nuvrei, a macaroon bar in the Pearl District. There was a buzz in the crowd; the gathered foodies were fans.
Ultimately, we learned that the book was a long process, and Dana had to wait until she fell in love with a concept for the cookbook before diving in. The biggest lesson she learned from all her mistakes is that “cooking is not for the impatient,” and she feels her cookbook is about “troubleshooting before you fail.”