Anyone who has been to a few charity auctions in Galveston County has probably noticed that one item is always hotly contested. Bidding wars have broken out over the opportunity to have Chris Delesandri prepare a meal.
Delesandri, executive director of United Way Galveston County Mainland, is an award-winning cook whose brisket won top honors at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo cook-off. His highest accolades, however, come from the nonprofit organizations who have auctioned off his dinners. “My father told me when I was just a kid, “A lot of times people need help, and you may not be able to write them a check, but you can share your time and knowledge,” and for me that’s cooking,” Delesandri said.
“I usually donate a dinner for 25 people to charity events that have a live auction,” Delesandri said. “I told the second bidder that if he bids $2,000, I’d do a dinner for him, too, so we raised $4,000 right there.”
Delesandri has been cooking for large groups for nearly fifty years. “I started cooking with the Knights of Columbus, and then the Elks,” he said. “In 1978, I joined a barbecue cook-off team, and later joined the Lighthouse Charity Team. I’ve learned a lot from them.”
One thing he learned was to cook in quantity. “It’s not a big deal until it’s 1,000 or 1,500 people,” he said. “Two or three hundred is pretty easy.”
To keep it manageable, Delesandri starts early. “I generally get most of my prep work done the night before,” he explained. “If I’m cooking steaks, I’ll marinate them overnight.” The most-requested dinners are steaks, fajitas, or gumbo.
One of his most popular side dishes is “trash can potatoes,” boiled new potatoes mixed with sour cream, bacon and cheese. “It’s one of the things I learned from the Lighthouse,” he said. “It’s like a loaded baked potato. They’re so good that I don’t get many requests for potato salad any more.”
Delesandri has been involved with United Way Galveston County Mainland for 34 years. “The first 22 years, I was a volunteer, and then joined the staff in 2006,” he noted. “I became the executive director in 2012.”
In that time, he has seen the organization grow and evolve. “The need has changed, and now we’re looking at different ways to tackle it,” he said. “In our new office at 2800 Texas Ave. in Texas City, we’re coordinating the necessary tools for employment. I want to do everything I can to help people find a job.”
United Way Galveston County Mainland supports 30 agencies serving residents of the mainland. The organization is currently gearing up for the “Join the Fight, Break the Cycle” giving campaign. The 2017 campaign gets underway Aug. 30 with a campaign kickoff luncheon at the Doyle Center in Texas City. Tickets are available by calling 409-948-4211.