Hunter Lewis – Editor in Chief, Cooking Light

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That old familiar feeling. A quick glance, a lingering stare. You can feel your mouth start to water a little, and perhaps you bite your lip ever so softly. It’s evolutionary after all, there’s no need to fight it. An indulgence so satisfying, it’s quite easy to lose control; they don’t call it food porn for nothing.

The greatest chefs in the world will tell you that savoring a meal is a multi-sensory experience, and that the visual and olfactory experiences are just as important as the flavor. In food journalism, it’s important to seduce the reader with a tantalizing visual. This is the hook that will get the story a read, and the recipe made.

“We eat with our eyes. The look of our recipes has importance. They have got to look beautiful to work,” says Hunter Lewis.

“It needs to get the reader turned on and ready to dig in.”

Hunter Lewis knows his way around the test kitchen and photoshoots. He is the executive editor of Southern Living, and will be moving to Cooking Light next week to take over as editor in chief. Lewis has worked with many of the top food publications, including Bon Appetit and Saveur.

Lewis describes Cooking Light as a robust publication, citing the attention paid to nutrition and health, along with the mouthwatering visuals on both a print and digital level. “Cooking Light has a strong brand, and I’m looking forward to building on that,” he says. “It’s a dream job. I’m excited to get my hands on the pages and build on the highly successful brand.”

It’s easy to see that food is as much of a passion for Lewis as writing. Although his initial intentions lay solely in journalism, a few kitchen jobs lead him on a path toward cooking. By combining the two, Lewis has a strong approach, and comes from a relatable place. He says, “A well-known food critic was teaching a food review class and said to me, ‘You don’t need to join the army to write about it.’ I disagree.”

For Lewis, coming from a place of authority translates to richer content. He notes that by having a cross-discipline he has picked up skills and training from both. “You learn how to work under pressure and to make fast and good decisions.”

He credits Cooking Light with offering readers a multi-faceted approach to the meal. In addition to rich visuals and a wide range of recipes, the magazine also offers nutrition stats. Each recipe’s nutritional breakdown is rigorously tested and tweaked in recipe development, giving readers an easy guide to what best fits their diet. This makes what can be a dauntingdecision quick and easy for busy people who still want to make their own meals.

“It’s our job to  encourage, teach and guide readers about getting dinner on the table. There is so much information out there that is getting in the way; it’s important to cut through the static.” Lewis says.

The magazine offers quick weekday recipes, as well as the sort of recipes that you can indulge in on the weekend after hitting the market — meals that may take a bit longer, but are a joy to make, and a reward in the end.

“I understand the small glory of it. For me, cooking at home is a stress reliever when it’s not a rush. Everyone cooks for different reasons. The way we cook on the weekend has a different rhythm than the weekday.” Lewis says.

In terms of offering responsive content, digital is an important component to offer readers what they want, when they want it. Lewis explains that having a robust digital strategy across platforms allows the publication to participate in the news conversations differently. “The news cycle is very compressed, and we are able to cut through the static and be more immediate with digital.”

For a publication like Cooking Light, this can be a huge advantage. “There’s a lot of dilution online right now through social media and blogs.” He credits the test kitchen as one of the major advantages, in both creating valuable material and catching the reader’s attention.

“It starts in the test kitchen, you have to be thinking about what a recipe will look like on the pages of the magazine, and have to be cooking with the photography in mind.”

When you look at how technology has changed media, particularly Instagram, it’s easy to see why the visual can be an important hook to attract readers to both an article, and a publication. “It’s a great way to follow the people you respect, and has gotten really big in the game.”

Looking forward to the upcoming weeks, Lewis is excited to take his career to a new level, and to see his new colleagues do the same. “I love this opportunity to lead a team. On a personal level, I’m really excited about the talent and collaborations.”


Pitching tips:

Lewis is interested in pitches that show some homework has been done ahead of time to understand the brand. He says, “Look beyond the initial pitch. Building relationships for the long term is the most effective PR.” He is not interested in impersonal chain pitches and prefers to be pitched via e-mail.

About Laura Botham

Laura Botham writes features covering the movers and shakers in the media industry, daily updates, and Top 10 lists. She is a media researcher at Cision, specializing in Internet media. She is a freelance artist, enjoys traveling, the mountains, and can always make time for a cute animal video.

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