Sister Alicia Torres, Winner of Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Competition
“It was a great opportunity to show the message of the Gospels,” she said. “I did that because I love Christ Jesus.”
Fans of the Food Network’s “Chopped” series must remember Sister Alicia Torres, of the Franciscans of the Eucharist in Chicago, and her dramatic championship in 2015. Sister Alicia competed on a special Thanksgiving show that was divided into three 30-minute segments, from appetizer to main course to dessert.
She was cast on the show featuring chefs who serve the underprivileged. When Sister Alicia learned about the goal of that project, she told her superior she wished to participate. When given permission to apply, Sister Alicia went through the application process, never really imagining that she would be accepted.
“I had no intention to be on a reality television show,” she said. “The Food Network was looking for people to be on ‘Chopped’ and were calling convents. I told my superior that I like to cook but had no idea how it would work.” She had two interviews through Skype and was accepted because of her cooking experiences and her knowledge about food and meals. “I did it to highlight how we can all work together to help end hunger in our country, and also to give witness to Jesus. I saw it as something I could do for the poor and for Jesus,” she said.
Raised in a Catholic household, Sister Alicia attended a small Catholic high school and went to Loyola University in Chicago. Her decision to become a nun did surprise her parents, but she said she was really responding to a call from the Lord to enter the religious life. “The first question in my mind was, ‘What would this life look like?’” she said. “The Lord was inviting me to follow him and to love him especially as a sister. And we all have a particular role in life. I really did want to be a mom, but the Lord was calling me.”
When she entered the religious life, she was asked to cook, and had always enjoyed it. She remembered learning about meal preparation from her mother, father and grandmother. She also learned how a good meal can bring people together. “The greatest meal ever was the Last Supper,” she said. “The Christian community forms through food, by sharing meals, and as you sit at the table you receive a gift of what someone has given you. That is why family meals are so important. It has been a big impression on how food and faith connect.”
Sister Alicia said that before her appearance she was nervous, but her family was excited, and her superior was really supportive. But on the day of the show, she was calm and looking forward to the experience for very Catholic reasons. “It was a great opportunity to show the message of the Gospels,” she said. “I did that because I love Christ Jesus. The Lord had given us a chance to help end hunger in the country.
“After I won ‘Chopped’,” she said, “many connections with the food industry were developed that have helped to serve our food pantry. Now, years after ‘Chopped’, our food pantry is feeding an average of 1,000 families a week during the pandemic. It shows how the pantry has developed.”
She noted that just being with others who cooked inspired her to look into other cuisines by reading cookbooks and looking at recipes. Once she had the knowledge of that particular cuisine, she would try out her iteration for each recipe.
Once the pandemic is over, she said, the nuns will do community meals once a month. She also has spearheaded cooking for volunteers, and still continues to cook for her community. “We have a new retreat center,” she said, adding that more food will be available to serve others.
Note: What Sister Alicia cooked for “Chopped”: quesadilla appetizer, an entree of curried chicken with sweet-potato/cranberry hash, and a dessert made from a Turkey ice cream cake, green bean ice pops, and mashed potato candy.