If he could bring world leaders together, “Father Leo” Patalinghug says, he’d seat them at a table, put on his apron and cook them a hearty meal.
“Shut up, eat,” he imagines himself telling them — though he would want them to open up and talk to each other and maybe even bring about peace among the nations.
“When you have a deep conversation around good food,” he said, “it softens the message.”
Patalinghug, 43, a priest, author and strong advocate of family and friends eating together, will give a cooking demonstration tomorrow at Misericordia University, as part of the inauguration week activities planned to welcome the university’s new president, Thomas J. Botzman.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be making,” Patalinghug confided in a telephone interview. But he expects it will be something simple. Six lucky people who already have been chosen will get to eat the food, university spokeswoman Marianne Puhalla said. Everyone else gets to watch and learn more about the priest’s food-centered philosophies.
“Some of the greatest lessons in life are learned from people who love one another enough to eat together,” he said, explaining children can learn a lot from their parents while sharing a family meal.
“I’m just following my boss, namely Jesus,” Patalinghug said. “He invited everyone to the table, and much of his teaching took place outside a synagogue, around food.”
When you’re sharing a meal, the priest said, the food needn’t be gourmet, expertly prepared or organic, Patalinghug said, though he does appreciate organic foods as good for God’s creation and says “the more natural, the better.”
Still, he said, “I’m not gonna dogmatize it.” If conventional food purchased in bulk is more in line with your budget, “you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”
The important thing is the nurturing, the strengthening of bonds that happens when people share their thoughts, their joys and their struggles over a lunch or supper, no matter how humble.
Way before he became “Father Leo,” when Patalinghug was growing up in the Baltimore area and choreographing dance steps for an award-winning team of break dancers, sometimes his whole gang, six or seven strong and hungry, would pile in on his mom and dad.
“We were all teenagers, and my parents were really supportive and feeding us. That’s what all of our parents did,” he said. “We really maintained a brotherhood.”
He was somewhat hyperactive as a youth, Patalinghug said, and his mother taught him some cooking skills as a calming exercise. One of his first accomplishments was “bird in the nest,” an egg cooked in a hole cut into the middle of a piece of toast.
Later, when he studied at the seminary of the North American College in Rome, he swapped culinary tips with Italian friends, who taught him about their favorite foods while he taught them about hamburgers and ribs.
Among his accomplishments, Father Leo holds a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and was declared the victor in a televised steak-fajita “throw-down” contest against celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
A sought-after conference speaker, Patalinghug writes a monthly food column called “Catholic Culinary Confessions” for Baltimore’s The Catholic Review, and he hosts the weekly cooking show “Savoring Our Faith” on EWTN.