Father Leo Patalinghug was making the marinade for his fajitas in front of a crowd at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., where he serves as director of pastoral field education for the seminary — and TV cameras.

He thought the Food Network was filming a show about Grace Before Meals, his ministry dedicated to fostering stronger communities through stronger families, one meal at a time.

But the priest-chef wasn’t just cooking for the gathered crowd or TV that June day.

“I was talking and I realized that standing two feet away listening to me was Bobby Flay,” recalled Father Patalinghug. Yes, it was the Iron Chef himself — coming to challenge the priest to a steak fajita cook-off for “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay.”

The priest was surprised — despite the previous media attention he has received from “ABC World News With Charles Gibson” and The Washington Post, among others.

Regardless, he was up to the task. “With God as my witness, I’m not afraid! Bring your fajitas; let’s throw down!” he exclaimed. And a flurry of cooking ensued.

“I went mano a mano with an Iron Chef. It was a phenomenal experience,” said the priest, who pulled out his rosary during the intense judging.

Who won? The curious will have to tune in when the show airs Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. Eastern.


Appetizing Theology

Father Patalinghug has been cooking since he was a child. When some fellow priests suggested he do a cooking show and a parishioner who works as a TV producer expressed interest in the idea, the culmination was a pilot episode that hit the Web in 2003.

“As soon as it did, it went viral,” Father Patalinghug recalled.

Information about his cooking was soon posted on his parish website.

Then Father Roderick Vonhögen of SPQN.com, a Catholic new media outlet, took notice, which led to podcasts.

With the popularity of his podcasts, the cooking priest decided to continue the food-based ministry.

“I have a full-time, lifetime job; I have a vocation. But I realized I could do this on a day off,” he said. “I can make something to feed God’s hungry flock. People find the message uplifting. It’s a serious message presented in a delicious way; it’s theology presented in a more appetizing way.”

Between filming new Webisodes, he frequently does cooking demonstrations and TV spots. His ministry has a great following at GraceBeforeMeals.com and a self-published cookbook, Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life, that features essays, Scripture and topics for family discussion in addition to family-friendly recipes. Aprons with the “Grace Before Meals” logo are also available.

His weekly column goes out to an e-mail list of thousands, and he’s talking with a publisher about another book.

A PBS show is also in the works. He has started filming episodes, which will air if funding comes through.

Father Patalinghug is happy to contribute to the New Evangelization in this way. As he puts it, “I reach hearts and minds through stomachs.”


Gathering at Table

Father Patalinghug is not the only cooking priest. Father Paul Seil of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., has hosted “Our Daily Bread” for the last seven years.

He had previously done other TV work for the diocese, so this was “not a far stretch.” He takes cooking classes and watches cooking shows to keep up with current culinary trends, all with the purpose of bringing people together.

“Family meals draw people closer together,” Father Seil said. “We try to bring forth the sense of what is holy about joining together for a meal. The basis of our Catholic faith is gathering around the table of the altar for the Eucharist. The Last Supper changed the meaning of bread and wine forever. Much of Jesus’ ministry involved food: He shared a table with sinners, multiplied the loaves and the fish on the hillside; before he ascended, he ate baked fish.”

The show has led to cookbooks and kitchen-related products like aprons, oven mitts and pot holders.

But “Our Daily Bread” is not just about food.

“It’s a food show, but it’s a lot more than that,” Father Seil said. “We have prayer, Scripture, and talk about the Fathers of the Church. We have some cooking, but two-thirds of the show is visiting with someone who has a connection to a Catholic religious organization or community organization.”

The Daybreak TV-produced program airs once a month on the local ABC affiliate (which includes southern Ontario, Canada), and encore viewings on the cable access channels reach the eight counties of western New York state. The show can also be seen in Boston on CatholicTV and in Brooklyn, N.Y., on NET.


‘Feasts’ and Food

British author and journalist Joanna Bogle has also entered the kitchen. Eternal Word Television Network’s “Feasts & Seasons” features saints’ feast days and corresponding recipes and crafts.

Bogle’s mission is to teach modern society the true meaning of food. “This essential communal aspect of food — being grateful, inviting others, that eating and drinking are for the glory of God, a gift from God to be blessed and shared as a meal — is almost lost,” she said. “Many families never eat together.”

Celebrating the Church’s feasts can remedy that, according to Bogle. “The feasts and seasons of the Church are opportunities to offer hospitality and celebrate with friends and family,” she said. “Jesus invites us to feast with friends like he did.”

This fall, families can thank God for the harvest and celebrate Our Lady’s birthday on Sept. 8. Bogle suggests finding out about flowers and herbs named in her honor, such as marigolds and rosemary.

The series is an extension of Bogle’s Book of Feasts and Seasons, which was first published in 1986. An updated version, A Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations, came out in 2007.

Bogle previously hosted a BBC radio series on the topic, but TV, she noted, “is, of course, much more fun to do, as it’s visual, not just talking. I do actual cookery in a kitchen with a real stove.”

That “cookery” should always extend beyond the ingredients, noted Bogle: “There’s a sacramental nature to a meal when it’s lovingly shared.”

Bon appétit!

Amy Smith is the

 Register’s copy editor.


ON THE WEB:

EWTN.com/feastsandseasons/index.asp

GraceBeforeMeals.com

            

ODBTV.org