When Leo Paralinghug says he wants to show you how to spice up your marriage, he means over the family meal.
Better known as Father Leo, a Filipino American Roman Catholic priest, Paralinghug – who is also a celebrity chef – will hold a special cooking demonstration for over 200 guests on the first day of Fiesta in America, being hosted in Secaucus this weekend.
The two-day event filled with multicultural celebrations and festivities will take place at the Meadowlands Expo Center, and organizers claim it will likely draw as many as 20,000 people of Asian and Latino cultures.
In his demonstration, Fr. Leo will put together a popular ethnic dish from whatever ingredients he has at hand, possibly whipping up traditional Pinoy Adobo or Paksiw by creatively using American wine vinegar and Chinese spices. Or he might prepare a chewy Mexican fajita using authentic Filipino ingredients.
A resident of the Baltimore area, Fr. Leo developed his taste for cooking while in seminary at North American College in Rome.
He became friendly with local Italian restaurant owners with whom he was soon trading cooking secrets. From them, he learned about the art of cooking rigatoni and lasagna. He in turn taught them how to make hamburgers and ribs.
“Priests eat, too,” he said. “I’m just sharing what I do with other people.” – Fr. Leo Paralinghug
Along with his work as a parish priest at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville Md., Fr. Leo is also the host and founder of Grace Before Meals, an apostolate to strengthen families and communities around the dinner table.
“In my experience, nothing creates a better environment for a great conversation than time shared in the kitchen,” he said during a recent interview.
An internationally renowned conference speaker, author, TV host, and radio contributor on a variety of relevant topics – especially in the area of the new evangelization and new media – his unique background as a former martial arts championship title holder and choreographer for an award winning break-dancing group have provided him unique experiences and insights that have caught the attention and acclamation of diverse audiences, including PBS, ABC, CBS and even the Food Network.
Fr. Leo plays down his own role as chef, saying he’s “accomplished enough,” and focuses more on the quality time around a dinner table, and better food builds stronger family ties.
“People don’t get together on Thanksgiving for the dry turkey,” he said. “They are coming together as family.”
He said he first learned to cook at home with his mother, and then took culinary classes whenever he could, always making a point to visit local chefs wherever he is, seeking inspiration.
A founder of the movement Grace Before Meals and the author of a cookbook Spicing up Married Life, Fr. Leo said he works with a phenomenal team of people who spread the good word through good food.
“My boss is Jesus,” he said, noting that when Christ preached, he often fed the people he preached to, “filling their souls” as well as their stomach.
He said the root word for compassion literally translates into sharing of bread.
Grace Before Meals is a movement to bring families back to the dinner table – away from work, school, TV, games, and the many other things – to share a delicious meal together, communicate, and love one another.
Fr. Leo will be leading the benediction at the People's Ball on Friday night to kick off the festivities for the Expo, and again for the start of the festival on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 12:30 p.m. The presentation is at 2 p.m.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.