Fittingly, Dan Souza prepared food while reflecting on his path to becoming editor in chief for the beloved America’s Test Kitchen magazine Cook’s Illustrated. On his personal lunch menu: tortilla soup, just right for a crisp fall day in Boston.
As the publication’s top editor, Souza, a 2004 alum, specializes in helping home cooks gain confidence through science-based recipes, unbiased reviews, and trusted guidance.
“We’re creating core content that we know is educational and helpful, but also entertaining,” he said. “And putting it in more places, so new audiences can find us.”
Souza’s responsibilities extend well beyond the magazine. He appears on the Emmy-winning public television show America’s Test Kitchen, hosts the long-running What’s Eating Dan? web series, and works on the brand’s cookbooks, digital publications, online videos, and social media content.
The New England native credited UR with preparing him for an expansive food media role.
“I got to explore who I really was and what I wanted to do,” he said about his undergrad experiences. “It was the first step for me.”
UR’s wide educational range appealed to Souza. He majored in business with a minor in leadership, praising the small class sizes at the business school and engaging group discussions around leadership, his minor, at the Jepson School.
He also joined the University’s nascent hockey team. “A good friend of mine, 2004 grad Chris Bernard, started the team when I was there,” Souza remembered. “He brought me on, kind of in name only, as a coach. He needed someone to write down on the form.”
Despite being neither a hockey player nor a coach, Souza enthusiastically supported the effort. He and Bernard collaborated with a local ad agency to print large full-color ads for the team, getting the word out.
“It was a fun project that I probably never would have fallen into without him, but ended up getting a lot out of actually,” Souza said.
Two weeks before graduation, Souza received a fortuitous email from another Spider connection. A UR grad had started an alumni teaching program and asked him to teach English for a year at a rural Hungarian village.
Souza jumped at the opportunity.
“Cooking while I was there ended up feeding into my goals of wanting to go into food,” he said. Back in Boston, he drew from his marketing concentration and took an entry level position at a prominent advertising firm. But Souza couldn’t stop thinking about how much he enjoyed making food in Hungary.
He began a side gig working in a local restaurant on Sundays and promptly got hooked. After a year and a half at the ad agency, he left to prep salads in a kitchen full-time for $9 an hour.
Next stop: the Culinary Institute of America’s flagship campus in Hyde Park, New York. It seemed like a logical step. “I’ve always loved school in general, the way of learning that’s so organized and structured,” Souza said. After graduating from the CIA and cooking professionally for a while, he had another realization.
“I liked science and all these other aspects of cooking that I couldn’t really explore in a production kitchen,” he said. “But they were very much on the table at Cook’s Illustrated.”
Souza joined the publication in 2008 and rose to editor in chief in 2017. Not long after taking the helm, he proposed switching to color photos.
“That’s not much of a move for 2018, but the magazine had a strong brand identity as not-flashy, black-and-white, with the focus on the recipe,” he said. “I fully respected that but did feel like we could still be who we were and show our food in the best light possible.”
Over the past few years, Souza welcomed more contributors with different voices and stories into the fold. In a tough publishing market, subscriptions have only grown.
Looking ahead, Souza envisions doing more of what he loves. Plans include developing new TV show pilots and emphasizing the brand’s social media focus to ensure that home cooks can learn in the formats that work best for them.
“What started as very kitchen-focused evolved into essentially being a brand management sort of role,” Souza said about his professional trajectory. “All of my marketing classes, everything that I studied at Richmond has come back full circle.”
Read More: Seasoned chef: Alum leads Cook’s Illustrated