PUBLISHED:November 16, 2009

DeSantis-Then '06 cooks up community in the nation's capital

Good cooks tend to produce more than just savory food — they also cultivate community. While building her health-care litigation practice at Polsinelli Shugart, Lauren DeSantis-Then ’06 has managed to do both, launching her own cooking show, "Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis," and volunteering with the Duke Law Club of Washington, D.C., which builds community among the growing alumni population in and around the nation’s capital.

DeSantis-Then pursued both interests at Duke Law, where she was a Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy’s articles editor, participated in mock trial tournaments, and joined the Women Law Students Association. In Professor George Christie’s seminar she engaged her palate as well as her mind in a relaxed, communal setting.

“There were about six or seven students in the class,” DeSantis-Then recalls. “Every week Professor Christie would give us a topic and we would meet at someone’s house to have dinner. It was really fun, because it was a different setting and we got to know each other well while we talked about the law.”

DeSantis-Then lived at Alexan Farms apartment during her 3L year along with a large group of friends who regularly held progressive dinners. “Each person’s house would have a different course — whether appetizers or the dinner portion — and you’d go in groups to each house,” she says.

As she started her legal career, DeSantis-Then read an article about a young Texas lawyer who had a cooking show, which inspired her to investigate the possibility for herself. She earned a required video production certificate and submitted a proposal to a local community cable station.

"Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis" – filmed by DeSantis-Then’s husband, Corey Then ’96 – now airs in 29 U.S. cities as well as New Zealand and Australia. DeSantis-Then is working with a satellite television network to syndicate the show domestically; once the deal is complete, the show will reach 20 million households across the country.

“I wouldn’t be able to do the show if I didn’t love it,” says DeSantis-Then, who films only one weekend a month in order to maintain her law practice.

Jules Shepard ’95, an avid baker who suffers from celiac disease, recently joined DeSantis-Then on Capital Cooking. Having patented a gluten-free flour, Shepard showcased gluten-free baked goods from recipes included in her two cookbooks. The episode aired in August and will continue to run throughout the year.

In addition to developing her legal career and expanding her television show’s reach, DeSantis-Then volunteers as president of the Duke Law Club in Washington, D.C., which started in 2007 and now serves more than 1,000 alumni.

“I think Duke has a great thing going,” she says. “Not many other schools have such active alumni networks.”

“We’re trying to do a mix of events,” she adds. “Some family events, some social events, some educational or CLE events — and we’re trying to do three to four events per year.”

DeSantis-Then says the club has helped her establish community in the D.C. area and is a terrific opportunity for others to do the same.

“Being a volunteer is a great way to get involved early, meet people, reconnect with fellow alumni that you might not even realize are in that city, and start taking on leadership roles,” she says. “If you are an associate at a firm, you might not be getting big leadership roles in your cases, but here you can take ownership, plan an event, help out the alumni community, and have fun while doing it.”

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