The Tuesday Thirteen: Tim Cebula Spills the Beans as Senior Editor of Cooking Light Magazine
The Tuesday Thirteen
Tim Cebula, Cooking Light Magazine
Before we get into this interview, I want to thank Tim for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions. They have big things going on right now, yet he still chose to help me out.
Cooking Light is the world’s largest and most trusted food and lifestyle brand—making healthy food taste great, and making healthy living an enjoyable part of our every day lives. Editor, Tim Cebula, tells us how he got started and what it’s like to work for the publication.
Not only are you a professional cook, you have written for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and others, and have now moved into editing and writing for Cooking Light Magazine. How did you get your start with publications?
Tim My career track had been geared toward writing from the start, but several key collisions with the restaurant world ultimately sealed my fate as a food journalist. I was a literary writing major at Trinity College (Hartford, CT) back in the day. But I spent a couple of summers working on Block Island, where I started out as a dishwasher and, through sheer grit and determination, rose meteorically to the position of Dishwasher Who Also Chops Vegetables, and it really gave me a lust for the cooking life. I idolized the studs on the line pumping out 300 covers a night. I think a lot of us who’ve cooked professionally got hooked the same way: there’s a swashbuckling romance to it that can be extremely alluring.
But I continued on with the writing life—journalism school in Boston, weekly and daily newspapers in the Berkshires, with restaurant jobs both during and in between, but always just for a little extra cash—until I was no longer happy with my work. I’d grown cynical, and even worse, bored, and so it was time for a change.
I left the daily paper and started cooking for caterers in the Berkshires. Soon I moved full-time to cooking. I worked at a few restaurants before landing at the one that really gave me my cooking bachelor’s and master’s: The Old Inn on the Green. Chef Jeff Waite gave me my start there as a part-time garde manger. After he left, Chef Peter Platt, one of the best mentors I’ve ever had, moved me through all of the stations—including a painful but highly instructive 6 months in pastry—helping me work my way up the ladder over three more years there.
I loved cooking professionally, hard as it was. But I needed to get back to writing. And so I did, gradually. I was a correspondent for the Globe food section for a while, wrote food columns for a regional magazine, and just generally scraped the rust off. I jumped at the Cooking Light job when it became available, and was fortunate to find them equally enthusiastic about me.
Can you tell us something about Cooking Light Magazine that we may not know?
Tim Here’s something: It’s not a dieting magazine. It’s all about balance. We’re not the calorie police. We’re not looking to slap your hand if you have an extra slice of pizza. We just want to give you the information you need to make smart choices.
I think some folks who aren’t familiar with Cooking Light might think of our mission as being about deprivation. Not the case. We celebrate deliciousness, and aim to show folks how tasty healthy food can be.
What do you love most about your current position as Senior Food Editor?
Tim My “beat” at Cooking Light is Chefs and Restaurants. One recurring story I oversee is our Trailblazing Chef Awards. It differs from other award programs in that we have very particular categories, all of them falling under the umbrella of innovation. So we scour the country for chefs who are blazing original trails in unique categories such as Global Flavors, Produce Innovation, and Culinary Preservation. Once our initial research is complete, I spend part of my year eating at the restaurants we’ve identified as frontrunners to determine if they can make the cut. The program allows me to stay very involved and current with what’s going on in restaurants in America. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Your career sounds very sexy. Enlighten us with how busy you really are and what it takes to be an editor.
Tim I’m busy. I take work home at night and spend time with it each weekend as well. But I absolutely love my work, so it never feels like a burden. I have a passion for food and cooking, and an equal love for writing and journalism. I think passion is the number one requirement.
What is the process for planning content for Cooking Light Magazine?
Tim Some story ideas come out of formal staff-wide brainstorming sessions, others may come from casual conversation after our daily taste tests in the test kitchen, or even after work over drinks. All of us on staff are constantly on the lookout for fresh story ideas. We look at what currently excites us—ingredients, dishes, techniques, trends—and ask ourselves: would this make a good story?
I would love to pitch an idea to Cooking Light Magazine. What is your best advice to go about doing so and being successful?
Tim Study issues from the last six months and get a feel for the parameters of each column, and what type of features we normally run. Don’t pitch us something we’ve already done recently, or something not suited for Cooking Light.
As a consumer, we only see the finished product on the shelves. How long does it take to bring just one article from concept to publication?
Tim It might be as long as a year and a half between concept and publication, though most stories take between six months and a year of work.
How long does it take to bring one complete issue to publication?
Tim We’ve been working on our special 25th Anniversary double November issue for more than a year now, but most issues take about six months.
Are there any special upcoming features that you are excited about taking to press?
Tim I can’t wait for the November issue to hit the shelves—I think readers are in for a huge treat. But I’m also extremely psyched about an event I’ve been organizing: Our Light Up The Night tasting on Friday, September 21st in New York City (Tickets now available). It’ll feature more than a dozen premier chefs and mixologists from around the country (Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago, Blue Ginger’s Ming Tsai, James Beard 2012 Best Chef NY winner Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen in NYC, and Jim Meehan of PDT in Manhattan, just to name a few) serving up food that’s absolutely delicious and healthy, proving that the two qualities aren’t mutually exclusive.
You also write for the Simmer & Boil column on CookingLight.com. How often do you personally publish an article and how do you come up with fresh content?
Tim I’ve been regularly blogging about the Light Up The Night event. But on other topics, I tend to post on new ingredients and cooking techniques I’m excited about. Companies send us new product samples to try, and if I really like one of those, I’ll write about it.
I know it may be tough to narrow down, but is there one dish you could single out as your favorite or the most unusual thing you’ve seen?
Tim I can tell you my favorite Cooking Light recipe of the past year: Steven Raichlen’s Fantastic Bourbon Smoked Chicken.
This blew us away when we tried it in our test kitchen. An amazingly juicy bird with wonderfully nuanced flavor. Steven Raichlen is our go-to guy for all things grill.
What do you do to unwind?
Tim Believe it or not, I cook. My kitchen is where I feel best. And I read like a madman. As long as my fridge and bookshelves are both bulging, all is right with the world.
What’s next for Tim Cebula and Cooking Light Magazine?
Tim Folks can look forward to more fantastically tasty and healthy food coming out of Cooking Light. We’re just starting to put together ideas for next year’s issues. With each new year, we set the bar higher for ourselves—I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!
Tim, thank you so much for the opportunity to conduct this fabulous interview. We always love the inside look at what goes into publications! Readers can subscribe to Cooking Light Magazine and visit the website, CookingLight.com for more fabulous recipes.
The Tuesday Thirteen is an interview series that asks thirteen questions to your favorite people in food. If you have questions you are curious to ask food bloggers, cookbook authors, publicists, food photographers, etc., please send your questions to email@example.com.