Hill Climbers: TV Chef, Journalist Lands at CHC
Lesley Lopez has always been a multitasker, so the new communications director for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is used to juggling many responsibilities.
It began as early as high school, when Lopez worked on her school’s student newspaper, served as president of her senior class and tackled local political issues, including ensuring that her high school graduation would be smoke-free.
“That was my first taste of advocacy and activism,” she said.
After high school, Lopez studied political science at the University of California, San Diego, where she continued to work for local news outlets and “started to intern like crazy.” She knew what she had to do next. “I wanted to go to Washington, D.C., and do the real-deal journalism,” she said.
While working in D.C. media, Lopez interned with CNN and worked as a production assistant for “America’s Most Wanted,” where she called families to obtain home videos and worked with law enforcement agencies. “I had to learn how to handle sensitive material, in a personal sense, and also legally sensitive material, but still make that interesting and compelling,” she said.
Lopez also worked for ABC News’ “This Week,” where she produced the Sunday funnies and greeted guests. She used this experience as another chance to learn and remembers asking Bob Woodward what she should study in graduate school.
“He looked at me square in the eye and said, ‘You know, if I could do it over again, I’d take art history,’” she said, explaining Woodward had been referring to the importance of understanding symbols.
Before making the switch from journalism to political communications, Lopez worked for four years at international broadcasting corporation Eurovision, where she learned the importance of targeting different audiences, and the British Broadcasting Corp., which she described as “one of the smartest newsrooms I’ve ever worked for.”
While juggling these other responsibilities, Lopez decided she wanted to learn more about the big-picture aspects of television, so she created her own opportunity to learn.
“I decided that I was going to create something where I could learn everything that I thought I needed to know, so I created my own cooking show,” she said. The show, “Guerrilla Gourmand,” sought to teach college-age individuals basic culinary skills so they could prepare meals for themselves while sticking to a typical student budget.
“I’m not trying to be Emeril Lagasse,” she explained, noting that she unsuccessfully auditioned to be on the Food Network.
But her culinary endeavors didn’t end there. Lopez also worked as a personal chef while she was studying political management as a graduate student at George Washington University. One of the clients she worked for was Dal LaMagna, who founded Tweezerman tweezers in 1980 before attempting to start a career in politics. Lopez remembers cooking for LaMagna and his guests, who included members of Iraq’s parliament and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
Lopez said she was able to remain successful as LaMagna’s personal chef by sticking to his favorites.
“As long as he has pound cake, he’s a happy man,” she said. “I can make a mean pound cake, and that’s the extent of my baking abilities,” she joked. Then she added, “I’m much more accomplished at consuming baked goods than creating them.”
She looks back fondly on her endeavors in journalism and the culinary world. “It’s always good to be an entrepreneur, and it’s always good to have marketable skills,” Lopez said. “But I think, in a long-term sense, I’m always going to be involved with politics and communications.”
She is confident that these varied experiences and responsibilities have prepared her for what she does today. “Every day was a different mosaic of jobs,” Lopez said, explaining that her current job is similarly structured.
“No two days are the same. You can have a general idea of what’s on the legislative calendar and what’s going on with the news cycle, but you never know if something’s going to pop up,” she said.
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