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Food & Wine's New EIC Reveals Big Plans for the Magazine

The future of Food & Wine

Sven Eselgroth

Earlier this week, the bigwigs at Time Inc. named Nilou Motamed, a veteran food and travel writer based in New York City, Food & Wine magazine's new Editor-in-Chief. Motamed is taking over for Dana Cowin, who held the position for 21 years.

The food media world immediately congratulated Motamed on her new position; the outpouring of support was great and grand. But for the general public, Motamed is not (yet) a household name. She is currently a consultant for Conrad Hotels & Resorts. Prior to this, she was Editor-in-Chief of Epicurious, though that stint was cut short. Earlier in her career she worked as features director & senior correspondent for Travel + Leisure. Born in Iran and raised in Paris and New York, Motamed is a graduate of Binghamton University. We caught up with the new EIC to find out what the new position means to her and how she plans to make her mark.

(Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Congratulations. How long have you known? How long have you been having to sort of hold it in?
Well, I think none of these things are a quick process. I'm really, really relieved and excited that the announcement is finally out and it's really lovely to get ... The social media thing is just so incredible. There's just been such a great outpouring of goodwill. It's really about the fact that people feel a lot of affection and sort of kindness toward the Food & Wine brand. They feel like it's part of their lives, so they're excited that it's in good hands.

It's interesting to me that Dana Cowin became something of a celebrity in her role there. So it may be a little early, but what do you hope to bring to Food & Wine?
I'm originally from Iran. I grew up in France and in New York as well. I have a real passion for travel. I worked at Travel & Leisure for a long time. I was the food editor and features director there. So, I would love to add a layer of global outlook to Food & Wine. The way that I engage with the world is through food. I know a lot of other people do, too. It's a nice lens to look through.

I'm half Iranian... and, so, in a silly way maybe I share some pride about this announcement. I love seeing Iranians in journalism.
I grew up in Iran, and so I swell with pride with anybody who's Iranian who does anything cool. I love the fact that people have been calling out the fact that I'm an Iranian and that, well obviously I'm a woman. I think that a big brand like Food & Wine having somebody at the helm who has a varied set of experiences and brings a lot to the table and has a curiosity about the world... I think that that can only be great. I do think that sometimes with our industry... It becomes very navel-gazing. We all end up feeling like we invented food. That's not true.

Your travel background probably adds to this ability to zoom out.
My husband and I travel often to Vietnam and we spend a lot of time in Italy and Europe. Wherever you go you see that there's a common denominator there. There's a common language that we all share. I think if we can showcase that in Food & Wine and come at it from a little bit of a more outsider point of view I'd be happy. At the same time, I've been here for a long time. I grew up here, also. I certainly got my training in traditional American media.

Do you think you'll be able to reach a new audience? Is that a goal of yours?
I think that there is no question that for a brand to continue to thrive, you have to continue to grow the footprint of the brand. That is, of course, a goal of mine, to expand the way that we engage with people. Deliver them more rich content, both in print and digital. Over deliver on things like inspiration and information and excitement.

Do you have any initial changes in mind? Anything you can sort of tease out?
I start March 14. At that point I can really do a deep dive into Food & Wine and spend time with the team and figure out how we can grow and collaborate. It is like a wild west now with all the things that we can do. Even things that we can't even imagine right now are going to be available to us. We need to be really nimble and creative. Really, like you guys do, think outside the box. I think you know the things that draw you. It's just a matter of figuring out how you create those things for different brands so you're not just emulating what other people are doing and you're creating your own vision, and being true to what Food & Wine stands for.

I know you have a lot of on-camera experience. Do you see you see yourself appearing in any Food & Wine videos or on Top Chef as guest judge or anything like that?
I did do a lot of TV, really ambassador stuff. I did a couple of TV shows a long time ago. I love talking, as you can tell. If I get to do that on TV, that's absolutely fine with me. It's not a priority that I be on TV... Top Chef is a perfect example of a great synergy and a show that has really captured people's imaginations. I think there is no question that video and TV are going to be a big part of what we do. I read something about how Americans now spend more than half their waking hours on digital media and technology. Digital video audience is forecast to grow to the point where it's going to be how more than half of Americans are consuming their content. So, I will say that I'm psyched that I have some experience in video, but I don't have to be in front of the camera. My experiences will help inform our direction. There's no question it's something that has to be part of our DNA.

Ok, can I ask you a few quick just for fun questions? Just a quick round. How do you take your coffee or tea?
I drink tea and I drink it black, and sometimes if I'm feeling crazy I'll put some raw honey in it. If you want more detail, I drink smoked earl grey. Either I buy it in London, or Marcus Samuelsson's Earl of Harlem is one of my favorites.

What about breakfast?
I am obsessed with breakfast. [My husband and I] make a very elaborate breakfast. No matter what time I'm getting up, no matter where I've got to go, I need to eat breakfast. I eat proteins. I like eggs. I love a Mexican breakfast. Or a shakshouka... I like a Mexican rendition, or I'll do some Persian rendition. An eggs in purgatory kind of thing with tomato. I like Persian bread for breakfast too, and have a friend that brings it to me from LA. I've got to text her because she's coming back tomorrow. I need to get my bread.

Last question: Favorite dish to bring to a dinner party or a potluck?
We like to blow it out and bring a pork butt, a slow roasted pork butt. There's a lot of different ways of doing that, but I think everyone loves a good DIY sort of dish. It's an interactive dish, and everyone gathers round to serve themselves, however they like it.

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