Filipino Priest-Cook Brings Tastes of Asia to Small Town USA
“This is my calling,” says Fr. Gregorio Dela Cruz Soldevilla. “I was being called by God to come here. And to express his goodness in the diocese.”
You may be scrolling through the internet looking for names of Catholic cooks and come across a photo of a cheerful Father Gregorio Dela Cruz Soldevilla, standing in a kitchen with friends. It turns out that this Filipino priest loves to cook, and has earned a reputation in his local parish, Church of the Resurrection in Clymer, Pennsylvania, where he is a parochial vicar and is also the Hospital Chaplain of Indiana Regional Medical Center in Indiana, Pennsylvania. This parish has five worship sites.
Growing up on a farm in the Visayas, a collection of small islands in the central part of the Filipino archipelago, Fr. Soldevilla was raised by Catholic parents who must have supported his interest in cooking: he began very early. “I belong to a family of nine,” he said. “I was the seventh, and my desire to cook started when I was 8, when I was not out working on the farm under the sun. And my parents asked for a volunteer to cook for the family.” He added that cooking always interested him and he would observe his mother at work.
“The first food I cooked,” he said, “was rice, which is our staple.” As it happened, his siblings gradually enjoyed his cooking. “And that is when I studied more on how to cook other dishes,” he said — and as it turned out, his whole family delighted in his cooking.
Once he became a priest, his bishop in the Philippines sent him to the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where he said 21 Filipino priests are serving. “My family has been sad that I am away from them,” he said, “but this is my calling. I was being called by God to come here. And to express his goodness in the diocese.”
But one dish and one event in particular has made him something of a local culinary star — that is, his Chicken Adobo (see recipe below) that he cooked for a fundraiser event in 2017 for “A Cultural Celebration of Mary, Mother of God.”
It was such a success that Fr. Soldevilla cooks regularly for many parish events. He noted that his pastor, Father James Mosley, particularly loves his Chicken Adobo and had asked that Fr. Soldevilla serve it for his recent Thanksgiving dinner. But his pastor also loves all his Filipino dishes, so Fr. Soldevilla cooks fish stew, rice and some Chinese-Filipino dishes. “So many Chinese live in our country,” he said. “and part of our culture has been influenced by the Chinese… I particularly like their garlic chicken rice dish.”
Now in his fifth year in the parish of the Church of the Resurrection and looking forward to returning home at the end of this period to the Philippines, Fr. Soldevilla has mixed feelings. ”My experience, it has been hard to be away from my family,” he said. “When I arrived, it was so different — the culture — and I had to adjust myself to the language, and even going to restaurants and ordering food, I had a lot of questions. I was slowly able to adapt. I want to stay, and I also see the wisdom of my bishop back home… five years is five years.”
Serve this dish with hot white rice.
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and diced
1 small garlic head, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds cut-up chicken
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons brown or white sugar
4 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
One 8-ounce can pineapple chunks
1 cup vinegar
In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic until the onions become clear, Do not burn the garlic; remove it if it starts to darken.
Add the chicken, soy sauce, sugar, bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Cover, and cook for medium heat for 25 minutes, turning the chicken pieces once. Stir in the pineapple juice, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes more. Add the vinegar, and cook uncovered for about 10 more minutes.
Stir in the pineapple chuck, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and serve.