Take Five with Dina Cheney ’99

Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney ’99 is a writer specializing in food, nutrition and wellness. She is the author of six cookbooks: The New Milks, Mug Meals, Meatless All Day, Year-Round Slow Cooker, Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Salads and Tasting Club. Cheney has also written thousands of articles and recipes for national magazines, websites and brands, including Every Day with Rachael Ray, Clean Eating, Weight Watchers, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Men’s Journal, Diabetic Living, Coastal Living, Specialty Food, The Huffington Post, Muscle & Fitness, MyFitnessPal, 24Life from 24 Hour Fitness andFood52. She also consults on content strategy and writes customer case studies, blog entries, website copy, press releases and executive bios for enterprise software companies. Cheney graduated from The Institute of Culinary Education.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I clung to the identity I’d solidified in suburban Maryland, that of an artsy intellectual. Donning bold lipstick and lots of black, I was excited to meet people like me — fellow creatives, dreamers and deep thinkers who preferred stimulating conversation to beer-soaked parties. After participating in the (now-defunct) Metropolitan Arts & Culture orientation program, I devoured the class descriptions in the Bulletin, signing up for courses in art history, painting and English literature. As soon as I could, I joined the staff of the literary magazine and began writing art reviews for The Federalist. All that said, I was nervous about starting over again away from home, and I think I sublimated that anxiety into food — I gained 20 pounds my freshman year, largely from Indian Café banana pakoras and Koronet pizza!

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

As an introvert, I was thrilled to have a single — a refuge. Naturally, I chose solitude too often my freshman year. Still, despite spending too much time in my room, I met a lot of science- and math-oriented people (for some reason, the fifth floor in John Jay that year was dominated by SEAS students). I also remember encountering people of various backgrounds, including a socialite from the South, an opera-loving intellectual of Hungarian descent, a New Zealander with a shaved head and penchant for tequila and a soon-to-be-close friend from a tiny town in Maine famed for its blueberries.

What class do you most remember and why?

I relished so many of my classes, especially Music Humanities — I still remember how my professor drew a layer cake on the white board, referring to the many layers in a symphony —as well as a Middle Eastern literature course taught by Magda al-Nowaihi. I teared up when I read of her passing. It was so exciting to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art during my Art Humanities course (my professor was a curator in the African art department) and to explore the city via walking tours during Kenneth Jackson’s much-loved “The History of the City of New York.” Yet, I must single out Jill Shapiro BC’80, GSAS’95’s primatology class. Her impassioned lecture style and the course’s fascinating content swayed me toward majoring in anthropology, rather than English or art history. Never have I studied so much for an exam!

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I always loved how the trees on College Walk were illuminated in the winter — to me, the campus is most magical at night. I’d step through those iron gates on Broadway and stroll down that promenade. It always felt so elegant and elevated. Still, I was most attached to the local restaurants, including Ollie’s (I was addicted to its steamed vegetable dumplings and scallion pancakes), Café Taci (the pasta à la Norma and tiramisu) and Café Pertutti (the Vesuvius cake and tortellini en brodo).

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I wish I had been more outgoing. I’m in touch with so few people from my College days (major caveat: I did meet my husband in Metropolitan Arts & Culture). I also wish I had pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, subject-wise. Since the humanities were a natural fit for me, I did not pursue courses that would have been more of a stretch.