Emmitsburg priest takes
on celebrity chef in
BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Father Leo Patalinghug is not the kind of guy who steps down from a challenge. The 39-year-old priest is a former national full-contact stick fighting champion, a black belt in tae kwon do and an ‘80s break dancer who can still bust the moves with the best of them.
So when Bobby Flay, a world-class celebrity chef, recently showed up in Emmitsburg and challenged the well-known cooking priest to a “throwdown” on the Food Network, Father Patalinghug’s response was simple: Bring it on.
The challenge came in the form of an ambush.
Father Patalinghug, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is director of pastoral field education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg (home to three Diocese of Dodge City seminarians). He had been invited to film a cooking segment for the Food Network based on “Grace Before Meals,” his popular cooking show that airs on the Internet and a Boston-based Catholic television station.
While Father Patalinghug was preparing a steak “fusion fajita” during a June 8 taping at the seminary, he noticed that his 100-member audience started “rustling around” and got unusually excited while he was talking about ginger and the dry ingredients for his marinade.
“I glanced up and the producer pointed to Bobby Flay,” said Father Patalinghug, a self-described “huge fan” of Flay and his fusion style of cooking. Flay hosts several Food Network programs including: “Iron Chef America,” “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay” and “Grill It! With Bobby Flay.”
The priest said when he saw the famous chef standing there “with his arms crossed and nodding approvingly,” he was shocked. “I said something like, ‘Oh, good Jesus! What the heaven are you doing here?’”
The master chef threw down the cooking challenge to see who could produce the best fajita.
“It was so surreal,” Father Patalinghug told The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. “I think my hands were shaking -- which was bad because I had to cut onions next. I said something like, ‘With God as my witness, I’m not afraid of you!’”
Standing next to each other, the two chefs went to work on their dishes as a team of cameras filmed their every move. A panel of judges evaluated their work and announced Father Patalinghug’s steak fajitas as the winner. The competition’s results were publicly revealed when the episode of “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay” aired Sept. 9.
The segment’s judges were Nancy Luse, a features editor and food columnist for the local newspaper, the Frederick News-Post, and Baltimore-based chef Bennie Gordon.
Viewers of the segment know that brown sugar was one of the priest’s surprise ingredients. But the priest did not reveal his fajita recipe because it is about to appear in his new cookbook.
Prior to the show’s airing, Father Patalinghug wasn’t supposed to talk much about what happened during the competition or how he prepared his dish. He only revealed that his fajita drew on a wide range of cultural influences including those of the Philippines, where he was born.
He said the marinade had smoky, sweet and spicy components.
“For the fusion fajita, I drew on every country I’ve ever been to,” he added.
During part of the taping, Father Patalinghug held his rosary as “a force of habit,” and some members of the audience did the same. The priest recounted that when Flay noticed this he said: “Oh no! They pulled out the beads. I’m done.”
As for the competitive aspect of the show, Father Patalinghug noted that the word “competition” literally means “with petition.”
“That means ‘prayer’ for us,” he said. “I was really grateful that by providence the whole idea of competition became a prayer. With prayer, anything is possible with God.”
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