Anna Velas-Suarin

Food Trip with Fr. Leo: A Celebration of Food and Family Ties

Fr. Leo puts so much of his heart and soul in every meal that he prepares.

A cooking priest?! This is what came to my mind when our good friend, Jinky, texted us about an event that’s happening the next day. Forward to January 6, 2012.

Yes, Fr. Leo Patalinghug is a cooking priest indeed! It was my and JR’s first time to see a priest in a chef’s coat and it took us a few seconds for the reality to sink in. 🙂 When we shook hands with him and began a conversation, we almost forgot that he is a priest because he is so down-to-earth, cool, and humorous. (Father Leo, please consider that as a compliment.) 😉

The event is part of Fr. Leo’s way of sharing his joys in cooking and spreading the word about his group’s advocacy and movement, “Grace Before Meals.” (Visit for more info.) The movement encourages people to spend meals together as a family and community, and in the process, build stronger ties, and commune with God, who is the unifying force and the creator of endless bounty. This is not your typical ‘preachy’ affair but rather an enjoyable journey towards rediscovering the beauty of cooking, sharing culinary delights,  and experiencing simple joys just from talking with our loved ones over shared meals, however simple they may be.

During my and Jinky’s interview (I’d rather call it a conversation) with him, it almost brought tears to my eyes when we began discussing our own personal experiences that have something to do with food. I shared with them a personal encounter, which has happened to me recently. It was last Christmas eve when Mom and hubby were preparing buko (coconut) salad. Enjoying the bond and joys of preparing meals, they suddenly began disagreeing over how much sweetener should be put in the salad! Each was so adamant about his/her own preference (Mom wanted more condensed milk in it while JR was insisting to go easy on the sweet for health considerations, saying, “Mommy, we don’t want you to have diabetes!”), that it got to a point when they decided to prepare two versions: one is very sweet (Mom’s version), and the other, with just the right sweetness. Until now, every time I’d think about that recent episode, it still makes me want to laugh. There is something really funny when two persons closest to your heart are seriously arguing about something seemingly nonsensical such as the the right formula for the sweetness! 🙂 I shared that with Fr. Leo and Jinky yesterday, and what the former said touched me to the very core, “You know, when your Mom is no longer here with us, you will always look back to that moment and it will always make you want to laugh. And you will always remember her every time you eat a buko salad.” Oh, I was ready to burst into tears just thinking about that possible moment in the future…

My hubby, JR Suarin, with Fr. Leo. I know that God will always be on the side of JR as he journeys through life and future career as a chef! How can I be so sure? Well, look at his new apron! It is autographed by God through the hands of Fr. Leo, one of his messengers about good food and small miracles. 🙂

But it is so true! Buko salad now has another meaning in my life. 🙂 Isn’t that another reason to celebrate our shared meals (and cooking time) with our mothers/partners, husbands and loved ones? Such moments truly make our life richer and deeper, infusing them with even more vibrant colors, or shall I say, yummier taste? 🙂

I have zero talent in the kitchen but I have been gifted with a husband who is so passionate with cooking that I consider this as another miracle in my life! I cannot cook and yet, I know I will always eat good and hearty meals all the rest of my life! Call it a twist of fate or whatever, but JR seems to be God’s perfect solution for my lack of talent in the culinary department. (Wink! Wink!) In a way, meeting Fr. Leo is also a serendipitous event in our life as a couple. More especially for JR who is beginning a new phase in his life (he used to be working in the financial sector), hungry for new culinary adventures, and constantly in search of inspirations and ‘gurus’. Through divine intervention, I think JR just found another inspiration in Fr. Leo.

As I type this, I also recall one of our most recent conversations before retiring for the night. I shared to JR how, as a child, I enjoyed playing with my palayuk-palayukan (children’s clay pots and pans). I have a complete set and I’d always “cook” meals with them, complete with actual sinaing (steamed rice)! Laughing a bit, JR retorted, “So! That is why you no longer want to cook when you got older! You finished up all your talents and patience in cooking when you were just a kid!” And we burst out laughing. 🙂 There, it makes us think — many of the best moments in our lives have something to do with food and meals, right? Fr. Leo reminded us that when we celebrate the special events and milestones in our lives, we always dine out or prepare and share sumptuous meals.

Fr. Leo’s Funky Fusion Fajitas. This is what he served us last night. It is truly the best Fajitas I have ever tasted. Go grab the book, “Grace Before Meals,” and discover the recipe.

However, how often do we even bother thinking about how the food was prepared and even how the ingredients were produced? Very rarely, right? That evening with Fr. Leo reminded us again to savor every bite, feel gratitude in every fiber of our soul, and thank the creators of the bounty on the table: God who gave us huge gardens and deep oceans, the farmers who patiently planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables, the soil, the rain, and the sun who ensured that our food will be full of nutrients, and the chefs (and mothers/fathers/wives/husbands) who lovingly prepared the meals so we can continuously grow, live, and enjoy life’s miracles.

Wait, did you know that Fr. Leo was able to beat Bobby Flay in the Food Networks’ “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”? Yes, he did! I think you can watch the episode in YouTube and in the Grace Before Meals website (url above). Culinary arts enthusiasts know that Bobby Flay is a great chef and it is indeed a great feat to beat someone like him. The throwdown was on the Mexican/South American dish, Fajitas, the same dish that Fr. Leo served us last night. Oh, I still salivate every time I remember the dish. I am just so happy that JR promised to make his own version! Yehey!

Grace Before Meals, The Book. It invites us to a journey one closer to God, a celebration of love and family ties. Every purchase of this book in the Philippines will help Sendong victims in Mindanao.

In a way, JR and Fr. Leo share another common experience. While JR used to be in the financial sector and is now preparing to shift to a new career in the culinary arts, Fr. Leo did not really intend to become a priest. He was a martial arts (arnis) enthusiast-athlete, and a graduate of Political Science-Journalism. Like JR, he also eventually moved on to a new calling, a new vocation. Like them, we also journey through life facing new “callings”, forcing us to be bold, to jump, to embrace an uncharted path, even if our hearts beat wildly in our chest. How many times have we followed our instincts only when making difficult decisions and choices? It is during those moments that we can be sure, God is with us. For it is Him who carries us through the difficult moments, assuring us that every thing will be ok.

That evening, we are renewed, inspired, and rejuvenated. Not by a mind-boggling event that deserves a page in the Guinness Book of World Record, but by a simple act of cooking. Fr. Leo cooked to his heart delights, shared his life and personal stories, brought us one step closer to God, and reminded us once again of the biggest reasons for celebrations: our existence and our families. Ahhhh, gimme a plate of Fajitas!

(More photos from the event are below. This is not a paid blog. But Glory to God, I have been paid more than enough through the beauty of this world, a loving and thoughtful husband, and the glorious taste of food!)

We’re now proud owner of Fr. Leo’s Book, Grace Before Meals. 🙂

Fr. Leo with (L-R) Jinky, JR, and me. Happy gourmet moments!

Fr. Leo shares his life and his personal stories.

There is joy in the little things. Discover them every day.

Give every thing you do your very best for God creates miracles through you.

Commit to each moment. Savor life.

Prepare each meal with love and joys in your heart. A miracle is happening there.

Thank the great creators who prepared the meal on your plate.

Thank the farmers who planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables. The soil, the rain, and the sun, who ensured that every bite will be full of nutrition.

See the miracle on your plate? It is God’s bounty beckoning you, inviting you to a feast.

Fr. Leo was assisted with De La Salle University culinary arts students, Marion Manuel Lagman & Jan Michael de Guzman. (Thanks, guys! Goodluck in your future careers!)

We were served with a very delicious tiramisu dessert, done by Marion Manuel (and assisted by Jan Michael). It is one of the best tiramisu versions that I have ever tasted, with just the perfect tinge of sweetness. Ohlala, salivating for a bite now… 🙂

God works in mysterious ways. Who would have thought that we will ever meet Fr. Leo, the famous cooking priest? I know now that JR will journey through life and his future career as a a chef with God’s graces: with this apron as a reminder, what dish can ever go wrong? Thanks, Fr. Leo, for the gift of your heart and talents. Mabuhay ka! God bless you more each day!

Big thanks to BergHOFF for hosting the event. Big thanks as well for Ms. Anon Ozaeta, and the staff of BergHOFF, for the warm welcome and good work. Kudos sa inyong lahat!


BergHOFF | G/F Frabella I, 109 Rada St., Legaspi Village, Makati City

Tel. +63 2 347 1165 (Contact Ms Anon Ozaeta)

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