Priest-chef helps ‘Celebrate Catholic Schools’

Father Patalinghug appears in one of his “Grace Before Meals” programs. The priest-chef will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Celebrating Catholic Schools Dinner and Awards Presentation on Jan. 26. (CNS photo courtesy Grace Before Meals)

By Michele Chan Santos

Dynamic and energetic, Father Leo Patalinghug brings humor and verve into every conversation. He is a priest of many talents: he’s a chef, a choreographer, an author and a former martial arts championship title holder. He even beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay on an episode of “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay,” winning the contest with his mouth-watering recipe for Fusion Steak Fajitas.

Father Patalinghug visits Central Texas in just a few weeks. At a cooking demonstration on Jan. 25, Father Patalinghug will demonstrate the famous fajitas that won him fame on the Food Network. On Jan. 26, Father Patalinghug will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Celebrating Catholic Schools Dinner and Awards Presentation at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin. For tickets to these events, visit He will also host a cooking demonstration and family picnic Jan. 27 at St. William Parish in Round Rock (visit

Father Patalinghug is the founder of Grace Before Meals, a national movement –– an apostolate –– that seeks to strengthen families and communities around the dinner table. He is an internationally known conference speaker and the author of the cookbooks “Grace Before Meals: Recipes and Inspiration for family meals and family life,” and “Spicing Up Married Life.” He also hosts a weekly cooking show on EWTN called “Savoring Our Faith.” In addition, he works part-time as a parish priest at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville, Md. Many of his cooking demonstrations are available on YouTube.

The Catholic Spirit spoke by phone with Father Patalinghug about the challenges facing families today. The always-busy priest and cook was shopping for groceries on a busy Monday while talking with us.

Question: What is your advice for parents today? Nowadays we’re all so busy, with practices and rehearsals and homework, it’s hard to get kids and parents all around the table at one time.

Father Patalinghug: I have three forms of advice. The first is to obviously talk to God about this. Pray about it. The second thing is prioritize. Start listing what you need to do in order to keep the family strong. All the sports and all the extracurriculars are not keeping the family strong. The third thing is make better food. It sounds so silly, but if you are making really good food, your family will take time for it. Thanksgiving and birthdays are good examples. Parents, if you don’t master your schedule it will master you.

Question: How did you become a priest? You have such a varied background –– martial artist, dancer, choreographer, chef. What drew you to this calling?

Father Patalinghug: I literally sensed a calling … There was a series of little miracles, or coincidences as secular people call them. I was confirmed in it when I was doing priestly things. I just fell in love with it. I became a priest on June 5, 1999.
Question: What is the biggest challenge facing families today?

Father Patalinghug: The biggest problem is we have lost a sense of the family as a vocation. We don’t believe God is calling to us anymore. Mom and dad’s job is to bring life into this world, whether it’s by having (biological) children, going the path of adoption, or becoming a godparent. The image of mom and dad –– their vocation is to raise saints. Joseph and Mary had one calling, to get Jesus to his final calling. Families don’t hear God speaking to them anymore.

Question: How does your Filipino heritage enhance the work you are doing with families? (Father Leo’s family is from the Philippines.)

Father Patalinghug: It offers a unique perspective. The Philippines is a very family oriented country. Hospitality is important, even though many people there are very poor. If you look at the poverty the country has experienced, it shows us that families can be happy even though they don’t have a lot of money or a lot of things. The Catholic faith in the Philippines is strong and demonstrates how true the church’s approach is. From a culinary point of view, they make unique food, which has certainly influenced me.

Question: Tell me about your “Spicing Up Married Life” book.

Father Patalinghug: The “Spicing up Married Life” book was born out of the inspiration of “Grace Before Meals.” The first link of the family is mom and dad. What I had to do is humbly realize that the Grace Before Meals book is popular and successful, but that was just the start of something. I prayed to continue to think of ways to strengthen families.

It was in prayer where this idea really took off. I’ve always done marriage preparation at the parish level, creating programs, working with couples before marriage, meeting with couples in marriage counseling, and a lot of people would ask me for advice. Instead of having to repeat myself, I thought, let me put it in a book.

Question: How do you come up with your recipes?

Father Patalinghug: The recipes are a product of me wondering what I want to eat and what people want to eat. Many of the recipes play to my strengths as a cook, and have a strong Italian influence or Asian influence. I also try to create recipes where ingredients are very accessible.

Question: How important is humor in your work?

Father Patalinghug: It’s a huge part of it because people get very bored. Many view the church as always serious and somewhat unapproachable. I bring leaven to the message. If you can make them smile you are not their enemy.
For more information about the Grace Before Meals apostolate, visit