Franciscan Sister’s Culinary Skills Win Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

Chicago Nun Serves Meals With Side of Love

COOKING NUN. Sister Alicia Torres of the Franciscans of the Eucharist works with a seminarian to prepare dinner. 2012 photo, Karen Callaway/Catholic New World


CHICAGO — Franciscan Sister Alicia Torres is used to cooking under pressure at Chicago’s Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, where she regularly oversees meals for hundreds of people.

But she faced a new kind of pressure as a contestant on a special Thanksgiving episode of Food Network’s Chopped, which aired Nov. 9.

On the show, Sister Alicia, 30, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist of Chicago, competed against three other chefs who, like herself, work in soup kitchens. In the first round, the chefs made appetizers using typical Thanksgiving leftovers. Next was the entree round, followed up by a final round, where they created a dessert using an ice cream cake and a starchy candy. The chefs competed for a $10,000 donation to their charities.

Ultimately prevailing, the Franciscan nun relied on prayer and perseverance throughout the food challenge.

She is putting her winnings toward the mission at Our Lady of the Angels, in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood, which is home to crime, violence, drug trafficking and poverty. In 1990, the Archdiocese of Chicago closed the parish and the school. Cardinal Francis George wanted to maintain a Catholic presence there, so, in 2005, he invited Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Bob Lombardo to create a mission there. Later, a new religious community formed around the mission. The mission assists about 700 families a month with food, clothing and household goods through its food pantry.

Sister Alicia’s cooking skills come in handy during regular meals for the neighborhood. For example, every Tuesday, there is a program for seniors. “We have about 30 to 50 senior citizens from the neighborhood who come together for a Bible study, exercise, and then we serve them a healthy meal. That’s a really great opportunity, not only to get them food that’s healthy, but also to build community,” she said.

“We find that food is a fantastic means of evangelization — not only the basic need of feeding hungry people, but also the need of feeding hungry souls,” the cooking sister said. “I think that there’s certainly a gift from God when it comes to me and food, because I have no professional training in cooking.”

The Chopped experience was “incredible,” she said. “I’m very grateful to the Food Network and to Chopped for making it a priority to highlight a very real need in our country: about the issue of hunger in America,” she said. “It was a real joy to participate and represent our neighborhood.”

The sisters at Our Lady of the Angels are showing how to spread the Gospel through their God-given interests. “I’m thrilled that they are able to use the gifts that God gave them,” Father Lombardo said. “The religious life should be geared toward us using our gifts at the service of God and the Church.”

Joyce Duriga is the editor of Catholic New World,

the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.