Dana Cowin, all-star chefs dish up culinary delight

Despite serving as the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine for two decades, Dana Cowin says she’s not a great cook. While it’s clear she has a high food IQ, she admits she’s made countless cooking mishaps in the kitchen. But she’s well on her way to conquering them, thanks in part to her Rolodex of renowned chefs.

Cowin’s new book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, includes heartwarming stories and more than 100 recipes with the help of 65 all-star chefs—three of whom joined Cowin at Northeastern University on Thursday night for an exciting, engaging, and educational cooking demo and food discussion in Blackman Auditorium.

Joining Cowin were renowned Boston-area chefs Ming Tsai, an Emmy-Award winning TV personality and chef/owner of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon; Kristen Kish, winner of Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 10; and Joanne Chang, chef/owner of Flour Bakery and Myers + Chang.

“I love being surrounded by chefs,” a delighted Cowin exclaimed to the 500 people in attendance.

The event, held during Homecoming week, was the signature event of Xhibition Kitchen’s 10-year anniversary celebration this fall. Located in Northeastern’s Stetson West Eatery, XK has hosted more than 330 events over the past decade.

Chef Kristen Kish, right, prepares a chicken dish with Dana Cowin, center, as chef Ming Tsai, right, looks on. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Chef Kristen Kish, left, prepares a chicken dish with Dana Cowin, center, as chef Ming Tsai, right, looks on. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Tsai, Kish, and Chang were among the chefs Cowin consulted for recipes in her book, and they joined her and each other in cooking those dishes on stage. As they prepared the food, they conversed with the audience about the stories behind the dishes and offered up tricks and techniques to use in the kitchen. Tsai described how to pleat the edges and squeeze the air out of the potstickers. While making chicken with Riesling and peas, Kish explained how to break down a chicken by using its joints as a “roadmap.” And Chang explained how she folds her dough four times so that the biscuits are tall and multi-layered when they go into the oven.

Throughout the evening, the audience produced “oohs” and “ahhs” at the sights, sounds, and smells of potstickers crackling on the stove, the aroma of the chicken dish, and the perfectly prepared biscuit dough. And attendees didn’t leave on an empty stomach—they were treated to biscuits toward the end of the event.

Here are a few things we learned from the mounds of advice Cowin and the chefs doled out at the event:

•    Cowin said consulting with Kish for her chicken dish taught her the virtues of having patience in the kitchen. “Give yourself over to the process, don’t rush,” she said. “Otherwise you’ll have less flavor.”
•    Chang explained that she avoids overworking dough by rolling it out from the middle toward the sides rather than back and forth.
•    Calamari is one of the hardest foods to cook because of the tiny time window to make them properly, Tsai said. “Uncooked is horrible, overcooked is even worse.” In fact, he trains his cooks at Blue Ginger to know when his menu’s crispy calamari is ready by the sound it makes while cooking.
•    Kish said she double-cooks mushrooms because they contain a lot of moisture. She sears them first to cook out some of the water and then drains them in a colander, so when they go back in the pan they caramelize and develop more flavor.
•    When an audience member asked Tsai about meat substitutes for vegetarian potstickers, he suggested Edamame, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms, all of which would become more flavorful by adding garlic and scallions.
•    Chang said it’s very important to use a scale to measure out flour rather than using cups in order to achieve a precise measurement.

Chef Joanne Chang shows a biscuit that she and Dana Cowin prepared to be baked. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Chef Joanne Chang shows a biscuit that she and Dana Cowin prepared for baking. Photo by Maria Amasanti.