Food & Wine Classic: Meet Nilou Motamed, Food & Wine’s new boss
The Aspen Times
Nilou Motamed views food as a passport and cultural round-the-world ticket.
The Food & Wine magazine editor, who in February succeeded Dana Cowin at the helm of both the publication and the Food & Wine Classic after Cowin’s 21-year run, has made a career at the nexus of food, drink, travel and the luxury lifestyle. Which, of course, is Aspen’s and Food & Wine’s terrain.
Born in Iran and raised there, as well as Paris and New York, Motamed has spent her professional writing life circling the globe hunting for the perfect meal.
“Growing up in Iran in a culture that’s all about food and family gatherings around food — I think there’s a similarity looking at Italian culture or Israeli culture or Iranian culture — the focus of our gatherings is celebrating and feeding each other,” she says. “Often overfeeding. That has made me realize how important food — and whole food — is and how valuable it is to have a connection to the food that you serve your family.”
Motamed, 44, looks at the Food & Wine gig as an ideal way to put that passion to work along with the skills she’s honed as a travel writer and editor (at Travel & Leisure), a digital editor (as editor-in-chief at Epicurious) and a hospitality-industry consultant (with Conrad Hotels & Resorts).
“I know what consumers are looking for, and I know how to deliver it to them, and that’s what I’ve focused on,” she says.
Though this year marks her first as the Food & Wine Classic’s de facto master of ceremonies, Motamed is no stranger to the event. During her stint at Travel & Leisure, she attended several Classics and has spent enough time in Aspen to know the joy of patio cocktails at the Ajax Tavern, the necessity of grabbing a bag of kettle corn at the Aspen Saturday Market and the rejuvenating power of breakfasts in the courtyard at Main Street Bakery.
“Sitting outside and getting some great eggs, maybe after staying out too late, is not too shabby,” she says.
Motamed isn’t looking to shake up the time-tested formula of the Classic, she says, though she’s excited by newer events like SommCon (now in its second year).
“I love that it’s limited by virtue of where it is,” she says of the Classic.
“It can’t grow. And that feels intimate to me and really unique and special.”
And she loves the location.
“Aspen is the perfect amalgam for someone like me,” she says. “That intersection of food and travel and luxury — I can’t imagine a place that can check all the boxes more than Aspen.”
She’ll bring a global perspective to the magazine, with initiatives such as special issues with deep dives into a single country’s cuisine. And she’s pleased with how the magazine, under Cowin, stayed ahead of — and shaped — the trends in the booming foodie culture. The magazine, and its events and digital extensions thereof, are the foundation of what Motamed dubs “a multi-platform 360-degree partner to our consumers.”
Extending the magazine’s reach into the digital space is a priority for Motamed. She notes that food content online has grown six times faster than any other content category and that 29 million Americans have made food- or drink-related social-media posts.
“That’s 29 million people that are passionate, as we are, about food and wine culture,” she says.
Events, in particular, are integral to her online strategy. The ripples of all those Instagram posts by chefs and sommeliers and patrons at grand tastings zip around the world from Wagner Park.
“If any event gives you ultimate digital bragging rights, it has to be the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, because you’re one of just 5,000 people who gets to attend the event and you’re in this beautiful setting in a rarefied environment and you’re basically getting to hang out with the biggest talent in the food-and-wine world,” she says.
The new editor’s most anticipated bits at the Classic include the palate-worthy lineup of wines set to be uncorked at Mark Oldman’s “Wines for IPO Trillionaires” seminar, the Blackberry Farm dinner at the Sundeck and picking Ray Isle’s brain at tastings. One thing she’s not so excited about? Running at altitude. Motamed was on the fence about joining the field for the annual Food & Wine 5K Charity Race.
“I’m not committing to running,” she laughs, “because I think I may end up in some kind of oxygen tank.”
“Aspen is the perfect amalgam for someone like me. That intersection of food and travel and luxury.”
On a recent trip to Spain, I discovered something that I believe tops the espresso martini. It’s called a barraquito.