About five years into sharing tips and recipes on his YouTube cooking channel, Charlie DeSando got an idea. Or really, his wife got an idea. They were watching singer-actress Selena Gomez’s cooking show, which highlights a celebrity chef and their chosen charity. “We should do something like that in Milwaukee,” said Ellen Gilligan, DeSando’s wife.
Gilligan is the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s President and CEO, so DeSando has unique access to the philanthropic community. His fun and breezy YouTube series “Cooking With Community Leaders” debuted in 2022. DeSando, a former recruiter, throws guests like Mayor Cavalier Johnson and UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone “a bunch of softball questions, and then we’ll cook something,” he says.
Have you had to twist any arms to come on the show?
Not even a little teeny bit. All of these people who’ve been on, except for the mayor, I know personally. I’ve had a couple of people that have said no. One I almost expected because she’s – I don’t want to name any names – but I know her very, very well and [she’s] just very shy.
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Do you need to be a good cook to be a guest on your show?
You don’t! An example is the mayor. He is in charge, like I was, of taking care of the kids in the morning, getting them fed and off to school. That’s his time with his kids. But he didn’t cook. So my suggestion was we do what I did when my boys were young – make copycat McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. There are always things we can do. We can doctor a frozen pizza.
Have any of the guests come on with rock-star cooking skills?
JoAnne Anton [of Herb Kohl Philanthropies]. Fabulous, fabulous cook. She came out and made spanakopita [Greek spinach pie] from scratch. And Wendy Baumann from [Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation] made a tuna dish from [celebrity chef] José Andrés – probably a little over the top for most of the stuff that we do on the show.
What do you hope to accomplish with this cooking series?
I’m retired. This is what I like to do for fun. And I think it’s serving a purpose on some small level within the community. There are people who are trying to effect change to bring the entire city up, not just nice places on the East Side. The tagline I’m using is “Serious people with serious jobs having a little fun.”
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