q & a: noelle celeste and jon benedict, publishers of edible cleveland

Although this year's transition from winter to spring was less than typical, Cleveland is welcoming one new spring blossom that is brimming with freshness.
Behold Edible Cleveland, a new print quarterly that focuses on the local food scene. The publication is part of Edible Communities Publications, with magazines serving markets from Seattle to Charlotte. Although publisher Noelle Celeste and editor Jon Benedict have adopted the magazine's template from the parent group, the content is all local. On tap are tales about what Northeast Ohioans love to eat, from farm to fork, with healthy side orders of history, tradition and lore.
Celeste and Benedict collaborate not only on the magazine, but also on life at large. The husband-and-wife team lives in Cleveland Heights, where Celeste juggles the demands of a 10-month-old son and 13-year-old daughter, as well as a part time job as Director of Engagement for Civic Commons. Benedict works full time as Vice President of the consulting firm R Strategy Group.
The premier issue of Edible Cleveland began popping up last week at coffee houses, groceries and cafés from Mentor to Avon and even as far south as Akron. Combine the sensual look and feel of the bound print edition with the price (complimentary!) and it's no surprise that copies are disappearing fast. Not to worry; a complete digital issue is soon to follow.
Fresh Water contributor Erin O'Brien sat down with native Clevelanders Noelle Celeste (NC) and Jon Benedict (JB) to find out what's between the lines of this gorgeous new glossy.
What is your vision for Edible Cleveland?
NC: Edible Cleveland represents the synergy of all the pieces of our local food community. It's also about more than just the chef or the farmer; it's about the whole combination. In our first issue, we go from a baker who illustrates a recipe for a rhubarb smash to a story about Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream moving into Ohio City. We also wanted to reach into as many different areas as we could, so there's a story from Oberlin's Early Children Center and one about Millgate Farm in Ashtabula County.
What was the hardest part of starting the magazine?
NC: I'd say just deciding to do it. We both have jobs and we have kids. It's something we really wanted to see in our community, but deciding that we were going to be the ones to jump in and do it was one of the hardest parts.
JB: Neither of us have done this before. We both write in our professional careers but nothing like this. We've never done a magazine. I've never edited. She's never published. We started from zero. Everything had a significant learning curve.
Who is your audience?
NC: We want to be welcoming and friendly to the people who feel left out when they read other "foodie" publications. Maybe they can't afford the restaurants. Maybe they've never picked up a vegetable at a farmer's market. Well guess what? We're here to help you get started. There is no rule that says you have to know some particular thing in order to pick up a copy of Edible Cleveland and participate.
Any liner notes for the first issue?
JB: "Once and Future Farmland: Cleveland agriculture then and now," by Brad Masi looks at the continuum of urban farming. Even though it's the "it" thing, adding large numbers of urban acres to the farm effort every year is not new. We are building farms on top of what had been farms before we poured concrete on top of them. Through text and pictures, this piece really ties the current urban farm movement back to what Cleveland was built on hundreds of years ago.
Can we have a sneak peek at what's in the works for Issue Two?
JB: We're going to take a new look at a local chef that's gotten some national attention. Kimberly McCune will share some of her history and story that has nothing to do with Fat Chef. We're also going to include something on community gardening.
In a world where all things literary are succumbing to digital creep, you chose to go full steam ahead with a print publication. Why?
JB: We thought long and hard about investing in a new print publication. Two things convinced us. The first was seeing the success of some of the other Edibles around the country. The second was the realization we could produce an object of beauty. We aren't artists, but we love art. Edible Cleveland puts great design, great photography, and a commitment to layout front and center. It's printed on great paper. It's something that people can enjoy holding. It's something that you can possess and revisit, not something you consume and you're done with.
We hope every issue will not only educate and inform, but that it will bring a little piece of beauty to the reader's life, and that people will enjoy owning it.
Tell us about your contributors.
NC: All the writing in our first issue is local. We're really proud of that because it doesn't have to be. We have access to other stories, but we found it all locally. The photography is about 90 percent local. We've been committed to local talent our entire lives, so we love that.
Being part of a national network means publishers all over the country are about to get this first issue and see these local writers and illustrators and photographers. We're excited about that.
JB: We get to show Cleveland off.
How does Edible Cleveland fit in the local food community's food chain?
NC: The advertisers in this first issue took a big risk on a brand new magazine. They also are our distribution spots -- the places where you can get Edible. We help create community by driving people to those businesses to pick up a copy. We hope people understand this ecosystem and support our advertisers. They make Edible Cleveland possible.
The local food community needs businesses that succeed as businesses.
Where do you love to go when you eat out?
NC: I have a standby favorite that I always love: the pork chop at Fire is the best you will ever find in Cleveland. And we're definitely Phoenix coffee drinkers.
JB: I think Greenhouse Tavern is one of the best restaurants in the country. Although the cheese plate at L'Albatros is a revelation. And if I'm going to take down a pint of ice cream in one go, it's going to be Mitchell's.
And when you eat in?
JB: I like a brisket or a good pork shoulder that you can smoke and roast for the better part of the day. I really like the recipes that say, "Start three days ahead of time." I'm fortunate enough to do the big productions while Noelle keeps us fed day in and day out.
NC: I get to do the roasted chicken with some veggies on the side.
Your first edition is billed as "Spring 2012," designating a season instead of a date. How does being a quarterly fit into the concept of Edible Cleveland?
JB: Having the magazine come out at the cusp of every season allows us to celebrate that season and to kick it off.
NC: Like any vegetable or flower, Edible Cleveland only comes out for a certain amount of time. It's there for a moment and then it's gone. You either catch it now or catch it next time.
It's lovely to be seasonal.

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- Images 2 & 3: Laura Blake
- Image 4: Carole Topalian

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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