Transcript of CS#131: Grace Before Meals Fr. Leo Patalinghug

Transcript of Interview with Fr. Leo Patalinghug about Grace Before Meals. This interview and others like it can be found at

Listen Now to the audio version of the show.

Grace Before Meals is available at The Catholic Company.


Chris Cash: This is the Catholic Spotlight, the show where we talk about what’s new, cool, and exciting in the Catholic marketplace. I’m your host, Chris Cash from the Catholic Company, your source for all your Catholic needs. And today in Spotlight, we have Fr. Leo Patalinghug, an exciting and energetic Filipino priest and also an excellent cook. We are going to be talking about Grace Before Meals, the name of his cookbook as well as a show he does now. Your show is on PBS, correct?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: No, not exactly. It’s more of the name of the movement. The show is promised to be carried by PBS when we finally get the funding for it but really the whole Grace Before Meals name is the movement and the show is only part of it. So we actually do things on EWTN, things on Catholic TV up in Boston. There’s discussions of doing things in other networks as well, not just PBS. So there’s a lot happening there.

Chris Cash: And by the way, everybody you can find more information on Fr. Leo over at, a very nicely done website, by the way.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Thanks.

Chris Cash: It’s got a lot of great content, a lot of video. You can see Fr. Leo and some of the things he does. Can you tell us about the Grace Before Meals movement?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, it started actually after September 11, 2001. A lot of that information is actually captured in the first chapter of the book which is called Recipes and Inspirations for Family Meals and Family Life. So after that attacks of September the 11th, I was on a retreat and the idea of a priest cooking show came out which I honestly thought was the stupidest idea I ever heard but all of a sudden, people start to take it really seriously and somehow I got put in the middle of it all and just by providence, I met several people who loved the idea, put the idea out on the web. Things kind of got viral for a while and so people got very excited and it just kind of grew to the point where now we have about a million visitors every month, about 10,000 subscribers. The book is going very well and popular and I travel around the country with a message to try to encourage family meals, not just because of the sociological statistics that showed the health benefits of it but most importantly because it leads us to a deeper sense of knowing the greatness of family and why God calls us to a regular family meal every Sunday at Mass. So it’s a movement that really combines food, family, and faith and at the same time, have a lot of fun with it.

Chris Cash: Can you explain a little bit about what you’re doing to try to encourage family meals and what exactly do you mean by a family meal?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Well, I think the obvious is, a family is you eat together as a family. I mean, at one point, we used to do that all the time but with the growing popularity of fast food and I really, I don’t have any problem with fast food, I just think that the mentality is that I’m too busy to eat with my kids. That’s the problem for me.

Chris Cash: So it’d be fine if you sat down at the table with your fast food then?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Absolutely. My family did it. I don’t want to say fairly regularly but we did it well enough. A family meal is basically eat together with your family on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean just on Thanksgiving. Why do we limit Thanksgiving to only one day a year when in fact, Catholics celebrate Thanksgiving every day. There’s a Mass that happens every day. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving so I try to encourage people to bring back the feast days, to make the dinner table an opportunity to discuss the events of family life, just for example, I got an email from someone and I get this all the time but I’m still happy to get them. There’s a chapter in my book that discusses breaking up with a first boyfriend or first girlfriend. You know that really is an opportunity to learn a lot about love, about relationships, about dating but sometimes, families don’t really talk about those things. So I have a recipe called Comfort Stuffed Peppers and this one family actually picked up the book by chance and they got it because they saw the chapter about breaking up with the girlfriend and boyfriend and how a good meal with mom and dad and this heartbroken young person can really be an opportunity for grace. Well, they did it. They did the recipe. They loved it and they just realized that the questions that come with the chapter, that particular chapter really, really helped their family. So what we try to do is encourage families, not just to eat together but to cook together but if you don’t have that time, at least talk with each other and so that’s why the book has questions to engage conversations and even little prayers to let people know that God is part of that conversation.

Chris Cash: Now you mentioned that the movement isn’t quite to the point of having the funding for the TV show, do you want to explain just a little bit about the status of the movement at the moment, where you are in that journey?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, I mean, the TV show was never really a thought for me. The movement really was just to get people thinking and talking about it so if we left it there, we’re 100 percent successfully. I don’t need to do anymore but I’m busy. I mean, I’m a professor at a seminary in a university so it’s not like I have all the time in the world to devote to Grace Before Meals but we continue to grow simply because excuse the pun, people are hungry for it. They are eating this message up left and right. So as far as where we are with this, we have an award-winning website with a podcast that have won the People’s Choice Awards. I write an e-mail blast every week and people who subscribe to it, they love it. It’s just a regular message that connects food, faith, and families. The book is out. Let’s see. We also have done a tremendous amount of media work on most of the major network magazines, TV news magazines, that is like so Fox and Friends, CBS, Sunday Morning Report, ABC World Report, PBS, and also the Food Network. So we’ve done spots on all of those things and they continue to do more. And then finally, another component to the Grace Before Meals movement is me speaking around the country and even the world and I basically go to different parishes, different events and I’ll do a conversation, excuse me, a little presentation about Grace Before Meals that also includes a cooking demonstration most of the time. So people hire me to come out and do talks for the diocese events, parish events, and so on. I’m all over the country spreading the message and as far as the TV show is concerned because I don’t know, I think Catholics are really weird about this. They shun entertainment at times because people in Hollywood can lead us in the wrong direction but at the same time, they watch it so they are completely in love with the idea of a priest cooking show.

Chris Cash: Well, I think people even outside of the Catholic faith would probably be fascinated by it. I mean, anytime you get a priest on TV, there’s a fascination standpoint from those who both love and hate the church.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yes and no. I think people like the idea, if they are Catholic and they’re not adverse to it but at the same time, I think people have sometimes a negative impression of Catholics on TV. They definitely like to see us only when we are on the news for bad ideas or when we talk about fighting against evil spirits and the devil. So it really all depends. I think people still need to want to the idea that priests are normal people but for your listeners, you got to realize that our Catholic media needs a lot of work. So we’re in the process of trying to improve our image as Catholics that kind of collaborate with the public sphere. So you know, people outside of the church have been very supportive with the Grace Before Meals movement and there’s constantly talk about making an actual show with me, whether it’s called Grace Before Meals or not. Now, I’m not at liberty to say anything about these things just yet but I can say that if I were to mention the names of people who want to talk, it would blow your socks off. But I’m not one to brag about it because nothing’s done yet. We also have to understand that it’s not easy. It is not easy to generate the publicity. It’s not easy to produce a half-an-hour show. I think our Catholics might need to wake up and to realize that it takes a lot of talent and a lot of money to produce a good show. And so that’s why we’re in the midst of all this.

Chris Cash: Even a simple show. Even a simple show, I tell you, is not cheap.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, absolutely. It takes some very dedicated people, but not just dedicated people. We also need to get talented people. We need to get people who really have a talent for it, who have practice and skill and a success rate to put something together. That’s where the status of the show is. Obviously, it’s still in progress but as far as the movement is concerned, I’ve reached my targets. I could be done with it completely.

Chris Cash: Now, if somebody wants to get involved with the movement and learn more about it, I assume they can find out everything they need to know over at

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, absolutely. We’re really judicious about how we get involved with different groups who want to sponsor. Just because we still want to really remain as true to our Catholic identity and at the same time, we want to make sure that we can be creative and to do what we need to do to make this a positive brand. I had no idea that I’d be talking like this when I was ordained a priest but we really have to just be very true to our mission and make sure that we don’t come across as too Catholic to the general population who doesn’t understand what we’re doing or they don’t feel welcome at the table. So I walk a very tight rope in terms of how we come across. Granted, we will always be Catholic because I’m a Catholic priest but at the same time, we can’t be so, for lack of a better word, pious-ceous or catechetical to the point where people can’t see just the fun and the entertainment value of what it means to be Catholic.

Chris Cash: You come from a long tradition of priests who have been in the media and has walked that line very well. I mean, Bishop Sheen is well known for having been a very popular voice.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: He’s not the only one though, to be honest with you.

Chris Cash: Oh, I know he’s not but he’s probably the…

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: No, no, no. I said that he…I’m suggesting that he actually is one or the only one who’s walked that line well.

Chris Cash: Oh okay.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: If you want to, we definitely can talk about the different people on the media, I’d rather not but Fulton Sheen and I do pray that he becomes a saint. He did walk that line well. I think sometimes that we don’t which is why we, our church and our popular media people might get into a little bit of trouble because it’s a hard line to walk and the church is so funny because we want to support them but at the same time, if they do make a mistake, they don’t get the support so the whole Grace Before Meals thing is on a cutting edge of the new evangelization which basically means, we’re at a crossroads, we get a tremendous amount of support but at the same time, we can also get a little bit of criticism from even our own Catholics who might think of this as just a pure gimmick. I mean, my goodness, I’ll be putting out an email on my email blast on my blog about a very faithful Catholic person who just basically said, “We need to shut out operations down and for me to get back to the parish.” And that’s coming from a faithful Catholic and what do we do about that? Well, we respond with truth and charity and let people know that the new evangelization is going to require our Catholic church to take some bold steps, some very bold steps and to make sure that we do not shun the media but the rather, we try our very best to collaborate with them. So Grace Before Meals is more than just a priest cooking show. It’s a movement to try to reawaken the evangelization efforts of the church which, we’re a sleeping giant.

Chris Cash: Right, and I think it’s important to note that if we keep our priests and our evangelization centered on church and church alone and don’t engage the culture in the places where the culture is, out in the new media, on Facebook, on Twitter, in all the different realms on cable television, then we are not doing our job as Catholics to reach out to those who need us.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: You’re absolutely right and as this particular ministry or apostolate is very specific, we just can’t have anyone doing it as well. Sometimes, we need to really discern who does what in the church. Not everyone should be a canon lawyer. Not everyone should do marriage preparation. Not everyone should do youth ministry. Not everyone should do media work and I never thought that I’d be doing it. My goodness gracious, this is as much as a surprise to me as it is to my family, that I’m doing this kind of stuff because I was trained as parish priest. I didn’t really have any training in the media field and while I am pretty skilled in the kitchen, I didn’t take a full-blown course in the culinary arts. I’ve taken many little courses and I have a pretty good track record for making some good meals and being very creative with it but I had no idea that I’d be doing this. It really shows God’s very unique plan for everyone and hopefully your listeners will hear that that there is a plan for everyone. What we’ve got to do is discern it, to put it into practice, to make sure it’s always rooted with the church and for the church and to be dynamic about it at the same time, not to be afraid. To be honest with you, to do this work, it frightens me a little bit just because it puts me in a realm that I was never used to or thought that I would be in. But God provides.

Chris Cash: Now did you have any professional training as a chef or as a cook?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Well, I’ve worked in some restaurants not as the executive chef or sous chef, really just kind of like on the line and that was for a pizza and gourmet hotdog stand.

Chris Cash: A lot of good training there, I’m sure.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, well actually, yeah, I was very surprised at just how much I did learn, at least about those two things, pizza and hotdogs which actually can be considered gourmet food, depending on what you do with it. I mean, I’ve eaten a hotdog that costs $15.

Chris Cash: I can’t say that I’ve done that.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Yeah, it was amazing actually but most of my training is home and self taught and then when I lived in Italy, I got to know a lot of restaurateurs and just observation. I have to admit, I am a fan of the Food Network so I would watch a lot of things and learn some skills and put it into practice. I do think that cooking is a combination of both a disciplined skill that someone learns and a talent that someone naturally has and I think that I have a natural talent and a pretty educated palate because my parents grew up teaching us how to eat very unique foods, not just Filipino food but foods from different cultures and nationalities as well and then of course, when I lived in Italy for six years as a seminarian, I really picked up on a lot of different European style cooking techniques so while I don’t have any professional training, I do have a lot of pastoral applications of food and like I said, it’s worked so far. I haven’t made anyone sick. I don’t think at least. I always hope that.

Chris Cash: All right, well we’re going to take a short break to hear from our sponsors as well as from as CMG Booking, they helped us to line up Fr. Leo to talk today so I promised them that we’d play a little promo. But we’ll be back in just a minute and we will be talking a little more about cooking as well as I think getting to the topic that everybody wants to hear about which is a throw down with a certain Bobby Flay. This is the Catholic Spotlight.

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Chris Cash: And we’re back on the Catholic Spotlight. We’re talking with Fr. Leo Patalinghug about Grace Before Meals, an excellent cookbook and I have not had a chance personally to try any of it out yet. I’m a little bummed about that. I am really though looking forward to getting to try some of the recipes in here especially a certain one that was used in a throw down with Bobby Flay. You want to tell us just a little bit about that experience? I’ve seen the show. It was an excellent show. They did a very good job of presenting the story and being respectful of the church at the same time.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Oh yeah. Absolutely. And most of the producers were Jewish and so they…it’s kind of funny because they really made the church look great, relevant, fun. A lot of the images that they took were of just really authentic Catholic families and a lot of smiles and boy, it’s kind of neat because it’s a cooking show but at the same time, it really became an evangelization opportunity, not with what we said but really what they showed, just joyful witness, just on authentic spirituality. Families coming together. And I didn’t know that it was going to be thrown down, to be honest with you. Everyone always asks that. Did you know he, Bobby Flay, was coming to challenge you to a throw down? The answer is no. Why would I expect him to come? I’m not famous for anything.

Chris Cash: Well, from the look on your eyes when he showed up, it was pretty obvious.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Oh yeah, it was pretty frightening. So basically, they got in touch with me. We set up a date to do some filming. I thought that they were just going to do a regular interview with me. I’ve done that already on so many different networks. So it was pretty standard. I was a little mystified by the fact that they wanted two days. However, when CBS followed me around for the Sunday Morning Report, that took three days. So I wasn’t as, I don’t know, surprised about this whole thing? So what happened on the second day of the shoot, I was basically doing what I normally do when I travel, I was giving a Grace Before Meals presentation. I was explaining the ingredients and then I kind of make an analogy about life and how it’s made up of many different parts and sometimes, if we put it in the wrong order, it turns out to be a mess. So that’s what I was doing and as I was speaking, explaining the ingredients, Bobby Flay showed up and I tell people, I prayed like I never prayed before. It was so shocking to see him and when he issued me the throw down, I mean I had no idea what came over me but I think it was just like the Holy Spirit encircled me and I said, “With God as my witness, I am not afraid. Bring it.” And boy, it’s like the heavens opened up. And all these cameras and lights and more people and Bobby Flay’s assistant showed up. And then it became a real cooking competition and so what happened was he cooked, I cooked, we plated, and there were two judges who showed up and they honestly were blind testing this food. They didn’t know whose food belongs to who and in the very end, I won. So it was pretty incredible of an experience.

Chris Cash: Which I always think is even more incredible because Bobby Flay’s specialty is southwestern food and to best him in a southwestern throw down seems…

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Well, it was a little different actually because my fajitas are not traditionally southwestern. I do use some of the components but I also use some Pan-Asian flavors as well to kind of wake it all up. It’s called fusion fajitas because it brings in so many different cultures and cooking techniques and ingredients and it elevates or at least changes the way a normal fajita would taste. And Bobby actually tried doing something similar with his. He usually does Tex-Mex but him knowing…because he knew that he was challenging a Filipino-American priest and of course, that surprised him but so what he did was just, he kind of changed some of his flavor profiles too to compete against mine. If he would have just gone traditionally southwestern, mine would have beaten him hands down because sometimes that flavor gets a little redundant. However, he wanted to change it up and so it was a real competition for some deep eastern flavors and so he got an incredible fajita. I tell people that I’ve cheated because I put holy water in my marinade but that’s not true. I just tell people that.

Chris Cash: Oh that’s too funny. And did you find the whole thing intimidating or were you pretty up for it?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: No, I was definitely intimidated but at the same time, this is just what we do. We have to take a bold step. I didn’t have much time to think about it and I’m going to be on national TV at this point and honestly, I was willing to take a very step so that Grace Before Meals could have a larger platform and I was ready to lose. Well, not ready…I was ready to compete. I was also willing to accept loss and I even kind of started crafting a concession speech. I was, had I lost, I was going to say, “Bobby, I just want to thank you. You’re an answer to our prayer. I prayed for humility and patient every day and you just were God’s instrument in bringing that to me.” That’s what I was going to say had I lost. So I really didn’t have anything prepared for my victory speech and so the only think I could say was, “Thank God.”

Chris Cash: So I take it, it was a shock to you to get to present a victory speech if you didn’t have one prepared.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Absolutely, I wasn’t planning on winning. I was just planning on competing. I didn’t think that far ahead. Fajitas create some attention because the choice of meat I use is not the traditional flank steak, excuse me, not the traditional fajita steak which is a skirt steak. I used something close that cut of the meat which is a flank steak and I chose that because my whole movement is about family meals. The flank is going to be ultimately cheaper than the skirt steak and I also wanted to show how you can cook with meat well and keep it tender, moist, and juicy. Flanks have a tendency to dry out because there’s so little fat in it. and so I think the judges picked up on that technique and they even said that the meat melted in their mouth which was music to my ears.

Chris Cash: That’s exactly what you want to hear as a cook, I’m sure.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Absolutely.

Chris Cash: Well, we are starting to run low on time. I did want to give you a couple of Facebook shoutouts. We didn’t get any questions out of our Facebook fans but we did have Adrian Purtell and Deborah Stevens, both wanted to shout out a “Hey, we love your show” to you. And was there anything else that you wanted to share with our audience before we finish up?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Well, we do a lot of crazy things at Grace Before Meals including some food and wine tours. I’m leading a Mediterranean pilgrimage in May. I’m leading a food and wine tour to the, excuse me, retreat to the Napa Valley where I concentrate on the transubstantiation of wine. We sent out some email blasts and of course, people can get information about my booking and my web shows and all that we do. Just go to and join the fun because it is fun because our faith is not boring.

Chris Cash: Absolutely!

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: And neither should your meals be boring either so that’s why I wanted to spice that.

Chris Cash: Yeah, that is so easy too. To just fall into the same routine of macaroni and cheese and hotdogs especially when my kids, that’s all they want to eat, right?

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: Just as long as you’d pray before you eat. I’ll be happy.

Chris Cash: Yeah, I tried to make something interesting last night and unfortunately, all they wanted was the rice. Maybe one day, I’ll get back into that more interesting food stage of life again. But thank you so much for sharing with us and our audience today. We really appreciate it. All of you in the audience, make sure you go over to Grace Before Meals, sign up for the mailing list, like it on Facebook, whatever you need to do to start getting that information from Fr. Leo and find out what’s going on with the movement. Get involved in the movement and share with others about it. Thank you so much Fr. Leo for coming on.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug: My pleasure, thanks for having me.


Transcript of Interview with Fr. Leo Patalinghug about Grace Before Meals. This interview and others like it can be found at

Listen Now to the audio version of the show.

Grace Before Meals is available at The Catholic Company.

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