Forget Theology of Body, it’s time to sink your teeth into the Theology of Food!
American priest, Fr Leo Patalinghug, otherwise known as “the cooking priest”, is a powerhouse when it comes to evangelising through food and he will be gracing Sydney with his presence next month.
Through his apostolate “Grace Before Meals”, Fr Leo, who is a priest member of the Voluntas Dei community, wants to deepen people’s faith using the powerful medium of food.His Filipino background helped develop his interest in food and his awareness of its importance.
For several years he has hosted his own TV program on EWTN called “Savouring Our Faith” where he cooks up delicious meals, often while interviewing guests, and elucidating important insights about the Catholic faith.
A man of many talents—and something of a pocket-rocket—Fr Leo is also a 3rd degree Black Belt Martial Arts teacher and a former award-winning choreographer for a break dancing group.Fr Leo will be touring Sydney and Melbourne for Parousia Media: Sydney on 28 April and 1-2 May, and Melbourne on 29 April. He will visit Perth for Why Be Catholic on 20-22 April.
He can’t wait to share his love of cooking and the Catholic faith with the people of Australia.
Fr Leo, how did your interest in cooking begin?
My interest in cooking started at home with my parents teaching their children the virtue of hospitality. When I studied for the priesthood in Rome, Italy I grew to a deeper understanding of the “power of food” and family meals. For that reason, I took cooking classes during my semester breaks, which paid off as a parish priest because I often times cooked for myself, and also because I found mealtimes with parishioners to be powerful opportunities to evangelise, catechise and also just to have healthy fellowship. It was for that reason, by providence and a lot of collaboration with great people, I created the gracebeforemeals.com movement.
How important is cooking in the Filipino community? And in American culture?
Cooking and hospitality are hallmarks of Filipino culture. While it’s a growing and developing nation, and while there is unfortunate poverty, I have found that Filipinos—rich and poor alike—are very hospitable, especially when it comes to fiestas. They share what they have and are always so very festive when it comes to sharing meals. In America, our celebration of Thanksgiving says a lot about the food culture. America, as a relatively young country, is developing a thriving food scene (BBQ, Fusion Foods, and even scientific cooking), especially through the efforts of the Food Network and other American based organisations that delve deeply into food issues concerning local poor, sustainable farming, health issues, and food production for the global poor. I also believe that America, like every other country and culture, has a unique food scene.
What inspired you to become a priest?
I sensed a call to the priesthood during college. This call came about from several sources including hearing a mission preacher, going on a pilgrimage, taking time to learn about my faith, having a great example of faith from my own parents, getting involved as a youth minister, and also having good friends who took their own faith seriously. God spoke to my heart in a powerful way through confession, and since then I just immersed myself in the life of the church. I’ve never been happier. It saddens me that people have such a negative impression of Catholic Culture. My job, as a priest and chef is to keep inviting people to the Lord’s Table. And with good food, it’s a start to bring them back to “tasting and seeing” the goodness of the Lord.
What is the aim of Grace Before Meals?
Grace Before Meals, which started off as a joke with me and some of my priest friends, has become an international movement to bring families back to the dinner table. Through this movement, I’ve developed a “Theology of Food” to help people understand their relationships with God and each other through the powerful experience of cooking, eating, and sharing a meal. As such, I host my own TV show called “Savouring Our Faith” on EWTN. I host and contribute to radio shows. I authored several books and written articles about this unique message of food. I also travel nationally and internationally giving lectures, cooking demonstrations, and other presentations to audiences of all backgrounds. I also created a non-profit, called The Table Foundation. This year we hope to begin more efforts, such as podcasts, a “feed my faith” tour, and more TV and web shows.
What do you think cooking can teach us about life and God?
My books, lectures, and shows demonstrate that God and food go hand-in-hand. While I look forward to discussing this in greater and entertaining detail at my presentations in Australia in April, I can at least say for now that from the beginning to the end of scriptures, God uses food and the meal to communicate his love and salvation for the children who call God, “Our Father” who gives us “The Daily Bread.”
What is your favourite dish and why?
I have a few ‘go-tos’ depending on my mood, such as mom’s pan fried steak, caramelised onions and garlic fried rice; I love fried chicken and BBQ; I also enjoy pasta, Asian cuisine, and all types of comfort food. I like just about anything, as long as it’s prepared with good technique, a sincere heart, and shared with family and friends.
Who is your favourite saint and why?
St Lawrence the Patron Saint of Grill Masters! Actually, I have more than one, but let’s just say that I’m so glad for the Communion of Saints and above all for their amazing example of being fed by God and in turn feeding others with God’s love!
Why do you think cooking is a good tool for the New Evangelisation?
Food is the common sense way to share faith in action. Cooking together, which requires serving, fellowship, and a degree of sacrifice, are all connected to the Christian message. It’s easy to answer this question when a person takes a serious look at Jesus’ example of when and how he evangelised. He did most of it through food!
Why do you think there has been an explosion of interest in cooking programs on TV?
I believe people are naturally being pulled back to the basics. Even in our fast-paced society, there is a longing, or perhaps a hungering, in each person to get back to the basics of who we are and how we will live: we are people made in the image of the Trinitarian Communion and we will only survive if we are being fed in body, mind and soul.
What is the purpose of your visit to Australia?
I’ve been invited to share my message in Sydney and Melbourne through the efforts and invitation of “Parousia Media,” and in Perth by “Why Be Catholic”. My visit coincides with a family reunion of relatives in the Philippines. For me, it’s always a pleasure to go to other English-speaking cultures. I’ve also had a great appreciation for Australia and find it very edifying to know how hungry Catholics are in this great country.
Sydney and Melbourne readers: