A cooking priest?! This is what came to my mind when our good friend, Jinky, texted us about an event that’s happening the next day. Forward to January 6, 2012.
Yes, Fr. Leo Patalinghug is a cooking priest indeed! It was my and JR’s first time to see a priest in a chef’s coat and it took us a few seconds for the reality to sink in. When we shook hands with him and began a conversation, we almost forgot that he is a priest because he is so down-to-earth, cool, and humorous. (Father Leo, please consider that as a compliment.)
The event is part of Fr. Leo’s way of sharing his joys in cooking and spreading the word about his group’s advocacy and movement, “Grace Before Meals.” (Visit http://gracebeforemeals.com for more info.) The movement encourages people to spend meals together as a family and community, and in the process, build stronger ties, and commune with God, who is the unifying force and the creator of endless bounty. This is not your typical ‘preachy’ affair but rather an enjoyable journey towards rediscovering the beauty of cooking, sharing culinary delights, and experiencing simple joys just from talking with our loved ones over shared meals, however simple they may be.
During my and Jinky’s interview (I’d rather call it a conversation) with him, it almost brought tears to my eyes when we began discussing our own personal experiences that have something to do with food. I shared with them a personal encounter, which has happened to me recently. It was last Christmas eve when Mom and hubby were preparing buko (coconut) salad. Enjoying the bond and joys of preparing meals, they suddenly began disagreeing over how much sweetener should be put in the salad! Each was so adamant about his/her own preference (Mom wanted more condensed milk in it while JR was insisting to go easy on the sweet for health considerations, saying, “Mommy, we don’t want you to have diabetes!”), that it got to a point when they decided to prepare two versions: one is very sweet (Mom’s version), and the other, with just the right sweetness. Until now, every time I’d think about that recent episode, it still makes me want to laugh. There is something really funny when two persons closest to your heart are seriously arguing about something seemingly nonsensical such as the the right formula for the sweetness! I shared that with Fr. Leo and Jinky yesterday, and what the former said touched me to the very core, “You know, when your Mom is no longer here with us, you will always look back to that moment and it will always make you want to laugh. And you will always remember her every time you eat a buko salad.” Oh, I was ready to burst into tears just thinking about that possible moment in the future…
But it is so true! Buko salad now has another meaning in my life. Isn’t that another reason to celebrate our shared meals (and cooking time) with our mothers/partners, husbands and loved ones? Such moments truly make our life richer and deeper, infusing them with even more vibrant colors, or shall I say, yummier taste?
I have zero talent in the kitchen but I have been gifted with a husband who is so passionate with cooking that I consider this as another miracle in my life! I cannot cook and yet, I know I will always eat good and hearty meals all the rest of my life! Call it a twist of fate or whatever, but JR seems to be God’s perfect solution for my lack of talent in the culinary department. (Wink! Wink!) In a way, meeting Fr. Leo is also a serendipitous event in our life as a couple. More especially for JR who is beginning a new phase in his life (he used to be working in the financial sector), hungry for new culinary adventures, and constantly in search of inspirations and ‘gurus’. Through divine intervention, I think JR just found another inspiration in Fr. Leo.
As I type this, I also recall one of our most recent conversations before retiring for the night. I shared to JR how, as a child, I enjoyed playing with my palayuk-palayukan (children’s clay pots and pans). I have a complete set and I’d always “cook” meals with them, complete with actual sinaing (steamed rice)! Laughing a bit, JR retorted, “So! That is why you no longer want to cook when you got older! You finished up all your talents and patience in cooking when you were just a kid!” And we burst out laughing. There, it makes us think — many of the best moments in our lives have something to do with food and meals, right? Fr. Leo reminded us that when we celebrate the special events and milestones in our lives, we always dine out or prepare and share sumptuous meals.
However, how often do we even bother thinking about how the food was prepared and even how the ingredients were produced? Very rarely, right? That evening with Fr. Leo reminded us again to savor every bite, feel gratitude in every fiber of our soul, and thank the creators of the bounty on the table: God who gave us huge gardens and deep oceans, the farmers who patiently planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables, the soil, the rain, and the sun who ensured that our food will be full of nutrients, and the chefs (and mothers/fathers/wives/husbands) who lovingly prepared the meals so we can continuously grow, live, and enjoy life’s miracles.
Wait, did you know that Fr. Leo was able to beat Bobby Flay in the Food Networks’ “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”? Yes, he did! I think you can watch the episode in YouTube and in the Grace Before Meals website (url above). Culinary arts enthusiasts know that Bobby Flay is a great chef and it is indeed a great feat to beat someone like him. The throwdown was on the Mexican/South American dish, Fajitas, the same dish that Fr. Leo served us last night. Oh, I still salivate every time I remember the dish. I am just so happy that JR promised to make his own version! Yehey!
In a way, JR and Fr. Leo share another common experience. While JR used to be in the financial sector and is now preparing to shift to a new career in the culinary arts, Fr. Leo did not really intend to become a priest. He was a martial arts (arnis) enthusiast-athlete, and a graduate of Political Science-Journalism. Like JR, he also eventually moved on to a new calling, a new vocation. Like them, we also journey through life facing new “callings”, forcing us to be bold, to jump, to embrace an uncharted path, even if our hearts beat wildly in our chest. How many times have we followed our instincts only when making difficult decisions and choices? It is during those moments that we can be sure, God is with us. For it is Him who carries us through the difficult moments, assuring us that every thing will be ok.
That evening, we are renewed, inspired, and rejuvenated. Not by a mind-boggling event that deserves a page in the Guinness Book of World Record, but by a simple act of cooking. Fr. Leo cooked to his heart delights, shared his life and personal stories, brought us one step closer to God, and reminded us once again of the biggest reasons for celebrations: our existence and our families. Ahhhh, gimme a plate of Fajitas!
(More photos from the event are below. This is not a paid blog. But Glory to God, I have been paid more than enough through the beauty of this world, a loving and thoughtful husband, and the glorious taste of food!)
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