The Mass has been said, the parishioners have gone home, and the Roman collar comes off. Now what does a priest do? We take a look in our new series “Holy Hobbies.” Learn about the hidden talents and trades of our Diocesan fathers. Could one of them be yours? Find out as we begin with clergy that cook.
By Natalie Romano
“It’s nice to use my hands since all day I use my head.” explains Father David Andel, J.C.L., Diocesan Judicial Vicar.
And use his hands he does, forming perfect little pork dumplings with dough made from scratch. While Chinese food may be on the menu tonight, the cooking bug began with Italian. Father Andel studied Canon Law in Rome and came home inspired.
“The food was good, different, so I started with Italian,” he says. “I made homemade ravioli, gnocchi, and red sauce.”
Initially Fr. Andel cooked solely for himself but as his repertoire grew, so did his guest list. He now hosts dinner parties and staff luncheons.
“Every time I’ve had his prime rib, it’s cooked to perfection,” gushes Gina Gradias-Penman, Administrative Assistant in the Diocesan Office of Canonical Services.
Not that you’d ever hear Fr. Andel being boastful. If anything, says Penman, he’s bashful.
“When he gets compliments, he gets embarrassed. But he says “Did you like it? Oh good, I’ll keep that recipe.”
Then this Godly gourmand seeks out new concoctions from newspapers, books, and cooking classes. While most of his culinary adventures are hits, there are the occasional misses.
“I tried to make butterscotch pots de crème,” Fr. Andel recalls with a chuckle. “It froze up in the pot. I was left with a big ball of hard sugar.”
If dessert sounds good then head over to St. Mel’s in Norco. You’ll find a priest there with a signature blueberry coffee cake.
“Oh I’m famous for that cake,” admits Father Toan Pham, Parochial Vicar. “I give it away on Holy Days.”
But sometimes you have to pay for the privilege.
“We hold bake sales for Catechism or formation students who need money for retreats,” he says.
Meanwhile, Father Steve Porter, S.T.L. , isn’t selling or sharing his homemade cake.
“It’s a spice cake and it’s for me,” says the Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Rialto.
While Fr. Porter bakes and makes just about anything, (“You name it, I cook it”) he stays away from Mexican cuisine thanks to his generous parishioners.
“They bring me food,” he says. “It’s nothing like what you’d get at a restaurant around here. It’s the real thing. It’s better.”
More than an exercise in creativity or entertainment, Fr. Porter says he likes to cook authentic, wholesome meals.
“I want to be healthy and fit,” says the priest of 35 years. “I don’t eat fast food ever. I don’t buy premade food at the supermarket, either. I want to eat well.”
But don’t assume it doesn’t taste good.
“Nobody cooks better than me, except my mother.”
For other priests who enjoy cooking, the appeal is about sharing a meal and even some culinary tips.
“What I do matters to people,” says Fr. Andel.
That’s why he’s never stingy with recipes or advice, says Penman.
“I had never made a pie crust. He told me what to do and I went home and made my first pie crust. He really helped me.”
The nurturing that comes with cooking is not lost on Fr. Pham.
“When I first came to St. Mel’s, I entertained students,” he recalls. “They fell in love with me from eating my cake. Then they fell in love with me because I’m there for them. I meet their physical and spiritual needs.”
Sometimes that need is a sweet tooth.
“Fr. David’s a morning person so I’ll come in and there’s fresh baked muffins or bread or cookies,” says Penman. “I’m so lucky!”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.