As a kid, Hunter Lewis ’00 loved eating out, so much so that it launched his career.
Hunter dined out with his aunt and uncle at Crook’s Corner, La Residence and Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe in Chapel Hill, where his family moved from Atlanta when he was 12. He stayed for a Carolina journalism degree, balancing reporting for The Daily Tar Heel with his first commercial kitchen gig at Jersey Mike’s.
After graduation, Hunter headed west for a year of hiking and fishing in Sun Valley, Idaho, supporting himself by flipping burgers. He also tuned in to the Food Network and learned things he tested out at work.
His gap year over, he returned to Chapel Hill and journalism, covering Carolina games for goheels.com. And he took a part-time job as a prep cook at La Residence. Tar Heel sports and kitchen creativity — could life get any better?
Well, no, and yes. To move up the journalism ladder, Hunter joined The Herald-Sun, covering cops and writing restaurant reviews. To polish his craft, he took a food-writing course in 2004 at the French Culinary Institute in New York taught by world-famous chef James Beard and award-winning journalist Alan Richman, who advised Hunter he didn’t need to know how to cook to write about food.
Even so, Hunter convinced the hot new West Village restaurant Barbuto to hire him. He was the lowest cook on the line, but at the other end was Chef Jonathan Waxman, creating menus with what was fresh at the farmers markets. Hunter learned everything he could, even from Waxman’s insulting him as a “glorified home cook.”
He earned Waxman’s respect, and when Waxman opened a restaurant in California’s Sonoma County in 2007, he brought Hunter out. They collaborated on the chef’s cookbook, A Great American Cook, and he worked with Matt and Ted Lee on The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.
Journalism kept calling. Hunter next joined Saveur magazine as test-kitchen director in New York. He also wrote, learning so much culinary knowledge from the other writers that he felt like he was getting a master’s in food journalism.
The recession hit publishing hard, but churn turns up opportunity. Gourmet magazine folded, and Conde Nast filled the void by moving Bon Appetit to New York; Hunter was hired as food editor.
In 2012, Southern Living wanted him to take charge of its food content and the test kitchen that tries more than 5,000 recipes annually. He moved south to Birmingham, Ala.
Last year, Hunter took over as editor of Cooking Light, with a circulation of 11 million readers, mostly women, a rarity for epicurean periodicals. This dream job marries his two passions: cooking and magazine making.
Within a few issues, he had given readers a taste of what to expect from his leadership. The March 2015 cover featured a person, not food, for the first time in the magazine’s 28-year history. The cover model was First Lady Michelle Obama; Hunter interviewed her about what she grew up eating, the state of family dinners and “Let’s Move!” — her program to end childhood obesity. The healthy-eating message was one of empowerment, not guilt.
The issue introduced a new feature — a healthy, fast, affordable cooking curriculum called “Let’s Cook!” that teaches elementary students and their parents how to cook with fresh produce.
Who knows what Hunter Lewis will cook up next?