The show highlights some of the most exciting culinary and cultural traditions in the richly diverse Metropolitan D.C. area. We spoke to Lauren about her show, her favorite chefs and restaurants, and her travels across the globe.
When did you know this was your calling?
I grew up in an Italian family in St. Louis, MO, where eating well was key to all of our family gatherings. Throughout college and law school, I was always cooking and entertaining by hosting dinner parties for my friends. I always wanted to do a cooking show, so I started keeping a notebook of all my ideas. About six months after drafting scripts and episode themes, I dragged myself up to the local television station to take some of the production classes. I finally decided on Capital Cooking because I really wanted to highlight the flavor and cuisine of our nation's capital. We started airing locally in D.C. and continued to expand in May 2008. You can currently watch the show on the PBS WETA Create channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
One of the questions that your show, Capital Cooking, seeks to address is: “What do Washingtonians consider as D.C. cuisine?” I’ll pose that very question to you. What is D.C. cuisine? What have you learned about local trends and tastes?
The only food that I could really find that was unique to D.C. was the half-smoke. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan. The cuisine in D.C. has a lot more to off er than the halfsmoke and is a lot like the people − a melting pot. We have many international choices as well as different regional dishes from all over the country. Washingtonians described D.C. cuisine as a lot of seafood and ethnic cuisine. Local trends right now include: burgers, small plates and cupcakes. You can really get a feel for D.C. Cuisine in the Capital Cooking Cookbook featuring recipes from chefs all around town. (Available on Amazon).
You’re a lawyer by trade. What kind of law do you practice? What made you decide to take your career in a culinary direction?
I’m a litigator. I’ve been trying to turn my focus on restaurant work to incorporate my passion for food and have assisted clients with leasing issues, lawsuits, employment matters, contracting, engineering, architectural defects and more.
I continue to pursue my love of cooking by reviewing restaurants at night and shooting my show on the weekends. I trained at L’Academie de Cuisine during the evenings a couple of years ago.
What are some of your favorite dishes you like to make for your friends?
I love cooking for my friends. I’m still a big casserole girl from growing up in the Midwest. Casseroles are a great way to feed a crowd, and I make a mean lasagna with bechamel sauce. I also love making my mom’s chicken tetrazzini. I also always test my new recipes out on friends as well, so I’m making a variety of ethnic dishes in preparation for shows. I’m on a Thai kick now aft er my recent trip. In addition, I always make a signature cocktail at every dinner party.
What is your favorite local restaurant? What constitutes a great restaurant?
I get that question a lot. It is a difficult question to answer because it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you are going the fine dining route, my favorite is still CityZen. If you are looking for something more casual and lively, I like Bistrot du Coin. If you’re looking to take a client out, I like The Source or 1789. My favorite pizza spot is RedRocks and you can find the best Greek food at Cava. For sushi, I love SEI. For Indian, my top choice is Rasika. I could go on, D.C. has so many fabulous restaurants. A great restaurant is great every time you go: excellent service, food, and beverages. Friendliness goes a long way for me.
You travel quite a bit, trying cuisine from all over the world. What was your favoriteculinary destination and why? Which was your least favorite?
That’s a tough question as well. I’d have to say Italy because there is so much wonderful food all throughout the country, and that is where my family originally came from. I was just in Thailand and loved the Northern cuisine. For least favorite, I’d go with Cambodia. Th e Khmer food wasn’t very good; I ate dumplings essentially stuff ed with grass. Yuck!
Who is your favorite celebrity chef? What makes a great chef? Any local chefs that we should check out?
I’m a big fan of Tyler Florence. I love his fast pace style and endless knowledge about food. I think a great chef is one that’s worked under many other great chefs and has been exposed to many different types of cuisine. I think the career of a chef is a constant learning experience. There is always more to explore and you can always get creative.
Make sure to check out Chef Dimitri at Cava, Chef Enzo at Bond 45, Chef Javier at Taberna del Alabardero and Chef Vikram at Rasika. All of these chefs are incredibly talented with super fun personalities.
What’s next for Lauren DeSantis?
I plan to keep working at Capital Cooking with a continued international focus. We are planning filming in Mexico and Australia in the near future. I would love to continue to increase our distribution and love to get on even bigger networks. I also want to continue my never-ending journey learning about food.