BALTIMORE - For Father Leo Patalinghug, faith and food go
hand in hand, or in cooking terms, they blend; there is no
trick to folding one into the other.
"The idea of food in faith is implicit in our Scriptures.
It's implicit in our liturgical calendar," he said, also
adding that without question it's a key component of the
The 45-year-old Filipino-American, known as the cooking
priest, has made the blending of those two worlds his life's
work with his apostolate, "Grace Before Meals," which aims,
as he puts it: "to bring families to the dinner table and
bring God to the table."
He not only does a cooking show on the Eternal Word
Television Network called "Savoring our Faith," but he also
travels across the country giving parish workshops and speaks
at conferences, on radio programs and via social media about
the need for families to celebrate not just Catholic feast
days but everyday meals together. He also has written three
books and is currently working on two more.
Without irony, he says there is a hunger for this ministry,
noting that the parish workshops he gives are typically
booked, filled with parishioners of all ages interested in
how food and faith meet and on connecting or reconnecting
with each other and God.
On Feb. 24, Father Patalinghug had just returned from a
series of parish missions in California and Chicago and was
about to leave the next day for the Los Angeles Religious
Education Congress. Oh, and he also was having about 30
family members over that night for dinner, so he needed to
get meat in the oven and a pasta dish started.
But noting that a busy schedule is pretty much how he rolls,
he demonstrated that with some advance planning he could also
easily whip up a Lenten meal of brown butter smoked paprika
sauteed with cherry tomatoes and shrimp over pasta.
"If a family thinks ahead about what they're going to do in
Lent - as opposed to making it seem like a drudgery" that
they have to think of something meatless to eat, he said,
they can easily prepare a similar dish and not have to rely
on cheese pizza or frozen fish sticks.
Case in point: His simple meatless meal seemed easy to make,
looked good when plated, as he put it, and was also really
That's part of his ministry, helping people see they can and
should eat well and eat together.
The priest has tapped into a current food fascination,
popularized by Food Network, the very spot where he gained
some notoriety seven years ago when he beat celebrity chef
Bobby Flay in a steak fajita cook-off on "Throwdown! With
At that time, the Baltimore priest, who is part of a
community of consecrated life called Voluntas Dei, already
was doing a cooking show and had written the Grace Before
Meals Cookbook, but cooking had been part of his DNA long
Over the years, he occasionally has taken cooking classes,
and when he was in the seminary at the Pontifical North
American College in Rome, he ended up picking up tips from
chefs at local restaurants.
But what really got his cooking juices going was from being
the youngest of four children and growing up in what he
jokingly calls "Hotel Patalinghug" because of his family's
hospitality so typical of the Filipino culture. He said he
helped or watched his mother cook and they never ate dinner
until his father, a doctor, came home from work, usually
around 7:30 p.m.
These days, with family get-togethers, he is not always the
main cook, because his mom is such a good cook and his family
members often bring something.
The go-to meal for the priest who is frequently on-the-run is
cooked vegetables and rice and maybe some steak "because who
doesn't like a little meat?"
His kitchen, set up for cooking demonstrations, is
uncluttered. The counters are bare and cookbooks are stacked
high above cabinets, with the appearance that they are not
often needed. On a chopping block is a small wooden statue of
St. Pasqual, the Franciscan monk who worked in a monastery
kitchen and is considered the patron saint of cooks and
Father Patalinghug admits his work is not a traditional
ministry, but he said it is meeting people where they are
just as Jesus sent His disciples out and told them to "eat
what is set before you."
He gives the example of St. Paul, "who followed such a strict
diet, but when he went to evangelize the nations, he had to,
for the first time, eat bacon, and he loved it I'm sure."
He can't seem to help throwing in cooking terms when talking
about his work, noting that Christians are all called to be
leaven in society and that his ultimate goal is to bring
people back to the Lord's table.
He also said his ministry provides bait: "Once people nibble
on the truth, once they've tasted and seen the goodness of
God, they hunger for more."
And he sees the fruit, so to speak, with the response
including an email from a woman who told him that after
watching his show, she went to church the next day, went to
confession and received the Eucharist for the first time in
"And I thought, I was just cutting onions, you know? It's
kind of crazy," he added, "but I was doing it in the name of