Top 10 (#8) Lauren DeSantis: The Cook of the Capital
August 1, 2012
By Raquel Reichard
Top 10 Most Interesting People 2012
Daytime attorney and nighttime blogger, Lauren DeSantis is the host of one of Washington D.C.’s most celebrated food shows. “Capital Cooking,” which takes its viewers on a culinary expedition to capital cities around the world, offers its audience exclusive recipes for unique cultural dishes.
The 30-year-old food-lover grew passionate about cooking as a law student at Duke University. Miles from home, DeSantis could no longer gobble down her mother’s traditional Italian meals, but she wasn’t ready to trade in mouthwatering cuisines for dormitory dishes.
“I started learning recipes and trying to make more simple dishes,” DeSantis said. “From there I kept learning more about food. I always had dinner parties in law school [and] I’d make all my roommates dinner.”
DeSantis, who snagged a job as a lawyer in the nation’s capital after graduate school, didn’t take cooking seriously until she relocated.
“Everyone [I] met were lawyers. I wasn’t used to that. I needed to meet other people and be creative and that’s how I originally started the show and did something with the cooking,” said DeSantis. Now “I have so many friends outside of law. I leave work and don’t have to talk about work.”
Her career as a lawyer, however, has been beneficial. In many ways, her experience as an attorney has helped DeSantis become a better host and producer.
“I make my money being a lawyer,” DeSantis said. “A lot of my legal skills help … with negotiating contracts with TV networks and setting up the company. Filming on the show translates to the courtroom [like] having to think on the spot when a judge asks a question. Some of the skills go hand in hand.”
The St. Louis native may have left the Gateway Arch when she moved to Washington D.C. in 2006, but she didn’t abandon the Midwest’s delectable treats. In DeSantis’ first episode, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” she cooked renowned Midwestern meals like chicken tetrazzini and toasted ravioli, while preparing a gooey butter cake and the famed St. Louis Cardinals cocktail.
Four years after the show’s March 2008 debut, DeSantis started taking “Capital Cooking” all around the globe.
“We just got back from Taiwan. That was a really interesting experience. We learned all about Taiwanese cuisine and Chinese cuisine. It was a really unique place. We tried a variety of food [including] Japanese food … It was almost like getting to do a trip in all those places, but all in one place,” said DeSantis. “It was nice because I got to meet with the ambassadors and local food writers and get a look at the seriousness of the people—they’re really serious about their food. Everyone is talking about food. It’s kind of fun [and] it reminds me of D.C. because you can find a lot of that around here.”
DeSantis and her crew will take their next trip in August, when “Capital Cooking” visits Sweden.
“Sweden and all of the Nordic countries are known for a lot of heavy food, but all of the Nordic countries got together and formed a Nordic council on food and … put in an effort to create a New Nordic, so now you can find all of this amazing stuff,” DeSantis said. “They’re using their local ingredients and … being very artful. [Their] plates look like a work of art when they come to your table. It’s a unique presentation [that’s] totally different from Taiwan.”
Just one month later, DeSantis and her team will pack their bags once again to learn about the varied flavors and colorful decorations of Mexican cuisines. “The U.S. has a dated version of what Mexican food is,” DeSantis said. “So it’ll be an interesting show of what real Mexican food is.”
Since 2011, when “Capital Cooking” started taking its cameras across seas, DeSantis has only been able to embark on a few trips a year. Each visit she makes out of the United States is time away from her job as a lawyer, and because filming takes about 10 days, DeSantis can only afford to take three or four trips a year.
As a full-time lawyer who has written her own cookbook, teaches private and group cooking classes, blogs daily and hosts and produces her own show, time is something that’s often not on DeSantis’ side. Friend and host of hyper-local news and lifestyle program “DC on Heels,” Vanessa Cammozi, jokes that DeSantis is the modern day Superwoman.
“I don’t even see how she’s doing it all. She writes the show, goes to events, cooks and hosts dinner and supper parties—I don’t know if she has 48 hours in her one day,” Cammozi said. “I think that she just gets it and understands it … The crazy thing is that she’s never one of those people that’s so stressed out and tired. She does it all—I literally call her Superwoman.”
To DeSantis, however, sometimes juggling two careers is overwhelming.
“Sometimes it catches up to me. I get exhausted [and] feel worn down … When I get like that I try to take a break. I’m really passionate about [“Capital Cooking”]—I love it. So when I get to the point when I don’t feel like that, I take a step back. I don’t want it to become an obligation; I always want it to be fun.”
“Capital Cooking” airs on WETA Create every Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 1:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Viewers can watch clips of the show and read DeSantis’ food blog at http://capitalcookingshow.blogspot.com/.