Chapel Hill native wants to 'breathe new life' into Southern Living magazine

aweigl@newsobserver.comSeptember 4, 2012 

Hunter Lewis has been named Executive Editor of "Southern Living."

COURTESY OF PATRICK MCMULLAN

For a Southern food writer, it doesn’t get much better than Hunter Lewis’ next gig.

The Chapel Hill native will be the new executive food editor of Southern Living magazine. Lewis, 34, got his start in food journalism as the restaurant critic at The Durham Herald-Sun. He starts his new job Sept. 10.

We asked Lewis about his path from the Triangle to New York and soon to Birmingham, Ala., where Southern Living is based, and what he hopes to accomplish in his new role. Southern Living has an editor, a managing editor and three executive editors over food, travel, and home and garden. Lewis will oversee all food content in the magazine, online and in cookbooks and manage the test kitchen.

Southern Living, known for its celebration of Southern culture, its reliable recipes and loyal readers, is the seventh largest paid monthly consumer magazine in the country.

Lewis fell for life in the kitchen the summer before his freshman year at UNC Chapel Hill when he got a job at of all places – Jersey Mike’s. “It was just to make money,” Lewis says. “But I got bit by the bug.”

He eventually became a prep cook at Chapel Hill’s La Residence. In 2001, Lewis left the kitchen to put his journalism degree to use as a reporter at the Durham paper. Since he had kitchen experience, they agreed to let him review restaurants. By 2004, Lewis discovered: “That was my favorite part about the job.”

When Lewis decided he needed more culinary training, he moved to New York and found a job at Barbuto, the restaurant run by legendary chef Jonathan Waxman, a founder of California cuisine. He would even help Waxman open a restaurant in Sonoma County. Four years ago, he returned to writing and landed a job as kitchen director at Saveur magazine. Last year, he became food editor at Bon Appétit.

“As much as I love working in a kitchen, there’s something nice about being able to see your ideas in print,” Hunter says.

Now he’s looking forward to the experiences awaiting him at Southern Living, which has a very loyal readership for good reason.

“First off, the recipes work,” Lewis says. “They’re rock solid and user friendly. There’s also a generational and emotional tie to the food because it has graced so many tables for decades. My mother-in-law subscribed in 1978 and stills makes dishes like fancy baked chicken from around that time and a Big Easy shrimp one from a 2000 issue. People trust the brand.”

Lewis sees his goals as twofold: maintaining that connection with longtime readers but also encouraging young readers to get into the kitchen. “It’s important that we breathe new life into the food coverage,” Lewis says. “There’s so much excitement about Southern chefs, farmers, artisans and ingredients out there, and that energy and culture needs to be reflected visually and editorially in the pages of Southern Living.” Lewis’ success in food journalism isn’t unexpected, says Bill Stagg, a former managing editor at The Herald-Sun who hired Lewis. Stagg recalls Lewis as a talented, inquisitive writer whose cooking experience gave him real insight into the food world. “Those who worked with him knew his real passion was food and cooking,” Stagg says. “... I’m not the least surprised that Hunter ended up where he is now.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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