Dana Cowin is a catalyst for many things: optimism, entrepreneurs, conversation, community, joy! Women and food, or perhaps women in food, are at the core of Dana's work and what brings her immense joy.
She was after all the Editor in Chief of Food & Wine magazine for 21 years, a fitting background for someone who now amplifies and champions the stories, ambitions and work of women in the hospitality industry. Dana does this by way of The Broadlies, her collection of four women-focused works: the podcast (Speaking Broadly); the coaching service for creatives (Coaching Broadly); the website of women makers (Giving Broadly); investing in start-ups, providing scholarships and pro-bono mentoring (Finance Broadly).
We recently caught up with Dana and talked about many things, among them a Speaking Broadly-related dinner party (one of a handful she hosted pre-pandemic) with a group of women in LA at the home of her business partner Jennifer Sommer. What she divulged left us intrigued, inspired, and reassured that the experiences we share around the dinner table nurture our personal and social lives.
Q: What inspired you to start hosting these dinner parties?
I discovered over the last couple of years in interviewing extraordinary women founders on my podcast Speaking Broadly that they rarely took a moment for themselves, and that they often felt isolated.
I heard over and over that launching a business is a lonely venture. I wanted to convene some of these remarkable women and create a moment of respite, connection, compassion and mutual inspiration around a table.
Q: What unique role does food play at these gatherings?
To ease any awkwardness, I asked each woman to bring a dish that had meaning for them. At dinner, each person told their life story through the food. It allowed the guests to share what was most important to them—anything from work to family to travel.
We learned so much about each other, gently and viscerally. Even the women who knew each other beforehand said they were moved by seeing a new side of their friend.
In addition to the food being the jumping off point for intimate, revealing conversations, plating the dishes together felt very special. Everyone came into the kitchen prepared to put finishing touches on their meal. They brought containers of mise en place, bags with platters, sprigs of garnish, half-baked cakes. The energy and bustle felt warm and fun, collective and uplifting.
Q: When you're hosting, how do you think about the dishes you want to bring?
For the dinners to feel authentic, the contribution to the meal needs to be honest, true to the cook. For me, that means honoring both the fact that I didn't grow up cooking and that I like to promote others. So my move is buying from a restaurant run by a woman I adore—there are so many in LA, like Kismet or Botanica. Or I buy a product from a woman-founded business and create an instant main course like Omsom's Yuzu Misoyaki or Gueleguetza's Mole on grilled chicken. Both dishes speak volumes about me!
As you begin to plan your next gathering, perhaps an outdoor picnic this summer, encourage your guests to bring a dish that has meaning to them. Once seated around the table (or on the blanket!), have everyone share the story and significance of their dish. And keep an eye on this space for upcoming "dinner parties" like these—but with a virtual twist—with women from Dana's "crew"!