When Lauren DeSantis, 32, graduated from Duke University’s School of Law in 2006, she married fellow classmate Corey Then and moved to Washington. Their trendy apartment on 14th Street is well-decorated and polished, with cooking apparatuses on the counter and cabinets, and herbs growing on a windowsill.
After a few months, DeSantis, a native of St. Louis, realized all of their friends were lawyers, and they often talked about work. “Law was a non-stop topic, so I wanted to expand my circle,” she said.
DeSantis’s mother loved to cook, and she grew up learning bits and pieces from her before staking out on her own in college. Shortly after her move to D.C., she stumbled upon Marie Hejl, a Texan that cooked for her local, self-produced television show. Hill served as an inspiration, and DeSantis began a second path in addition to her already demanding law job.
“Marie said she started with a show on local public access TV, which I didn’t know was a possibility.” DeSantis looked into what it would take to launch her own cooking show here. She enrolled in the 10-week training course, and put together her necessary crew, sponsorships, and guests.
Her first shows aired in 2008 on public access channels in DC, and eventually expanded to American public access channels, then Australia and New Zealand. From there, it was picked up by a national network on Dish in 2009, then signed a deal with WETA in 2011 to a potential audience of 4 million viewers. On her show, Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis, she cooks with chefs from all over D.C., allowing local chefs from a variety of backgrounds to show off their culinary skills to a televised audience. Viewers learn about local foodie culture, and the steps necessary to whip up dishes like authentic Mexican cuisine by Chef Connie of Connie’s Authentic Mexican Catering, Ethiopian cuisine with the owners of Etete, and more.
Though DeSantis was on a roll, she knew she needed to expand her expertise. “I was self-taught,” she explained, and wanted to get a more firm base. In 2009, she enrolled in a 20-week night school program at L’Academie de Cuisine, the culinary school in Gaithersburg with an impressive roster of chef alumni that includes Oyamel Executive Chef Joe Raffa, Bibiana Executive Chef Nick Stefanelli, and Top Chef star Carla Hall. “It was a great base and I learned how to cook basically everything,” she said.
She cultivated relationships with the chefs at different embassies in Washington, then took the show on the road shortly after, with a trip to Iceland to judge the Food & Fun Festival in Reykjavik, filming her show all the while. She got the hookup through the Agricultural Attaché of Iceland, whom she met at a Nordic dinner through the Swedish Embassy. A trip to Sweden followed, then trips to Taiwan and Cabo. The shows on the road include trips to night markets, touristy things like swimming with the dolphins in Cabo, and cooking with different chefs at their restaurants all over the cities she visits.
Let’s not forget about DeSantis’s law career. She was promoted to partner at her firm, Polsinelli, just last week. Though she’s won awards for her work in white collar crime cases, she feels most at home working on hospitality cases. “It’s good to know your clients’ business,” she said. “I cook and know a lot about restaurants, and I want to expand on that. Everything from obtaining liquor licenses, to contracting issues, to employment-based litigation.”
Her cookbook, Capital Cooking Cookbook by Lauren DeSantis
Meanwhile, her husband left his company, Midwest Renewable Capital, to take a gig at the White House as the Deputy Associate Counsel earlier this year, investigating people that are up for presidential appointments. When they get home from work, they typically cook in with dishes that are “quick and healthy,” like pork chops with local Pork Barrel BBQ Rub and seasonal squash (summer or butternut). They are also committed to one vegetarian dish per week. As we talked, he piped up from one room over about how everyone raves about her breakfast, which she cooks every Saturday and Sunday morning for him and visiting guests (her cousin and his wife were in town last week).
DeSantis juggles her careers with careful prioritizing. Often, her law career comes ahead of Capital Cooking. “It’s hard, because I take both of them seriously,” she said. “I am the type to follow through on things. I am not a flake. However, sometimes I have to cancel a media dinner because I’ll have to work late.”
Her 10 part-time writers help fill in the gaps, and she carefully plans busy weeks against easier weeks.
The Capital Cooking blog, which recaps her shows and provides recipes to her readers, currently gathers about 30-50,000 hits per month. The television show just snagged a contract with national network AMGTV, and will air on Roku to a potential audience of 45 million users. She also teaches cooking classes and released a cookbook, Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis.
Next up on her busy schedule: moving out of her and her husband’s apartment to a condo or a house. One of their top “musts” is a space to grow her own herbs and vegetables – something a little bigger than the windowsill.
Top photo (c) Pyle/InTheCapital, bottom photo via Capital Cooking