With Thanksgiving coming up this month, here’s a story for Chicago Catholics that really cooks.
The winner of this month’s Thanksgiving-themed episode of the Food Network‘s “Chopped” is Alicia Torres, a 30 year old Roman Catholic nun from Chicago. “Chopped” is a reality-TV based cooking game show: each episode starts with four contestants, who are eliminated one-by-one over the course of an hour as they whip up meals based on often strange sets of ingredients. The winner of each show is the chef who comes out on top after three rounds by preparing an appetizer, entree and dessert using often incongruous ingredients in less than 30 minutes. All of the guests for the Thanksgiving themed show worked as volunteers in soup kitchens, and Sister Torres was one of the four chefs who competed on the show last Monday. Each guest had to create new meals using only Thanksgiving leftovers.
Sr. Torres got very creative and whipped up a number of tasty dishes on the spot. In the appetizer round, she transformed Thanksgiving leftovers into Mexican-style quesadillas. For the entree round, Torres made a Mediterranean-style dish with curry turkey, a sweet potato cranberry hash and a dipping sauce with goat cheese and green beans. Finally, for the dessert round, she produced flourless chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil topped with goat cheese and Chardonnay frosting.
During her time on the show, Sr. Torres did not hesitate to discuss her background and faith with the judges. Before the show aired, she stated: “I wanted to do it for Jesus: to be a witness to how fulfilling a life surrendered to God can be. I also wanted to represent the least among us, the very poor, who are so dear to Jesus.” During the interview, she stated “The Lord gave me this talent” after the judges joked about her harboring some secret culinary training. She added: “I believe the kitchen is my canvas where I get to express myself creatively.” After winning the show, she stated: “Perhaps being on national TV and winning this competition will bring some attention to the issue of hunger,” she said, “and to the reality that God’s love is so strong and so big, he can take this little nun from Chicago who never went to culinary school to compete. … Literally nothing is impossible with God.” As the winning contest, Torres gets to take home $10,000. She has announced her winning prize will go to Our Lady of the Angels Mission in Chicago, the soup kitchen at which the Franciscan sisters serve. It will allow the shelter to provide more home-cooked meals for neighbors in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Torres also attributes her role in the soup kitchen to helping her think on her feet during the game show. She noted that artistry and ingenuity are necessary in a soup kitchen, since unpredictable donations can determine what’s on the menu. “There’s a lot of creativity that goes on with basic ingredients.” she noted. Sr. Torres explained: “We don’t always know exactly what food is going to come in, so the ability to be flexible and creative has really stretched me to expand my cooking horizons and think outside the box when it comes to preparing delicious, healthy meals.” She says that she was baking breads and cakes in her kitchen by the time she was a teenager. When it comes to the types of food she enjoys making, Sr. Torres noted that she loves making Mexican food and sweet treats. For example, she noted: “I recently made fish tacos with sweet potatoes! … I’ve been told my outside the box pesto and my Picadillo [a Spanish beef dish] are well done.” She also loves to bake strawberry rhubarb pie – a favorite of the late Cardinal Francis George.
Sr. Torres serves as a nun in the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago community on the city’s West Side. She recently professed her vows of poverty and charity. The sisters are devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, evangelization and serving Chicago’s poor. Although she is a millennial, Sr. Torres was one of the first members of her order: “Our vocation as religious is to live a life of prayer, witness and service – being on Chopped certainly gives a great opportunity to share that message with the world.” Sr. Torres also explained: “We have an emphasis on satisfying not only physical hunger, but also spiritual hunger. We begin any meal with a prayer service with a Liturgy of the Word format, as most of our neighbors are not Catholic, but Baptist,” she said. “Keeping God’s Word at the center helps us to stay united.”
Here’s to Sister Torres, the young Chicago nun with a special talent for cooking that paid off in ways she probably never dreamed of. Let’s hope her story can provide others with their inspirational Thanksgiving story.