Father James Paisley — an Award-Winning Cook Who Can’t Cook

The Pennsylvania pastor has raised more than $50,000 for charity by heating hot cocoa and improvising a strawberry drink.

Father James Paisley
Father James Paisley (photo: Courtesy Photo)

Most people passionate about cooking probably log onto the Food Network’s “Ready, Set, Cook” competitions. But what about the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Catholics who love the “Rectory, Set, Cook” annual competitions? The fundraising competition among parish priests helps feed the hungry in local communities linked with Catholic Social Services. And parishioners and others who love food and cooking tune into the filmed cooking sessions held by each priest.

But one of the biggest winners last year was Father James Paisley, who did not actually cook but made hot cocoa from a packet. Indeed, he earned his first place because he raised more than $30,000 to fight hunger. The pastor of St. Therese Parish in Shavertown and St. Frances X. Cabrini Parish in Carverton donated all the proceeds to several community groups fighting hunger.

As Father Paisley noted, “The secret is that I don’t cook at all,” he said. “This all started two years ago because the woman — the brainchild for it — came to me last year and made a video. I do love to entertain and to sing and we have done plays, and she asked if I would do one.” He decided to make hot chocolate and the video showed him making hot chocolate and singing. The video won, bringing in $31,000.

Father Paisley noted that he won in the Rectory, Set, Cook competition again this year, but what he produced was unusual: a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich; vanilla ice cream with green olives; a chocolate cupcake cut in half and covered with butter; a pizza topped with a banana; and hot chocolate with a dash of chili pepper and mustard-splattered Oreo cookie. In the end, he created a strawberry drink with vanilla ice cream, crushed chocolate-chip cookies and “Pepto Bismol” (really not).

“I fibbed a little,” he said. “I had to draw the line on these unlikely food combinations somewhere!” And he made $21,000.

As he admits, “I don’t know how to cook. I use my microwave and in my 17 years as a pastor, I have used the oven once to make a four-cheese pizza. Parishioners and others give me leftovers and other foods. … My parishioners are my life and my family. They have been so welcoming and so warm and to celebrate the Eucharist with them and to feed them with laughter is also very rewarding.