Praying and filleting: Scranton diocese priests enter virtual cook-off | News

When there’s nothing good on TV, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera admits he’ll tune into a cooking show.

Last week, the bishop of the Diocese of Scranton felt like he was starring in one.

Bambera is one of 29 clergy participating in the diocese’s Rectory, Set, Cook! virtual cook-off that begins Tuesday. The cook-off will raise money for both Catholic Social Services’ anti-hunger efforts and individual parishes, said Sandra Snyder, director of foundation relations and special events at the diocese.

Priests starred in 23 videos showcasing their cooking skills and recipes, from castagnole — a fried Italian dessert — to hot chocolate, Snyder said. Parishioners will have six weeks to vote online for their favorite video, and the diocese will name the winners April 11, Snyder said. The top three will receive embroidered chef hats — and bragging rights.

Each vote costs $10, with $5 going to Catholic Social Services and $5 to the priests’ parishes.

Bambera, who made chicken marsala, filmed a video with his fellow clergy at St. Peter’s Cathedral as they assembled an Italian meal. His dish accompanied the Rev. Gerald W. Shantillo’s pasta carbonara, the Rev. John Polednak’s limoncello and Monsignor Dale Rupert’s wine pairing suggestions, diocese spokesman Eric Deabill said.

The bishop grew up in a predominately Polish family where food was an important part of his culture.

“Cooking for me, it’s kind of second nature,” Bambera said, adding, “I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a gourmet cook.”

He occasionally watches what he described as informational cooking shows starring the likes of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. With Deabill filming his segment, Bambera experienced it firsthand.

“You watch them, and I thought, ‘Well, I guess that’s what I’m doing right here,” Bambera said.

Early into the pandemic, Snyder was looking for ways to raise money for Catholic Social Services that involved food. Catholicism has a food culture, and she knew some priests were excellent cooks. While attending a fundraising webinar, she learned of the Diocese of Allentown’s virtual cooking competition, Cooks with Collars.

“That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.

The diocese planned to hold a gala to raise money for Catholic Social Services this year but scrapped it due to the pandemic, Snyder said. Instead, they replaced it with the cook-off. There’s no fundraising goal this year, but if it’s successful, Snyder hopes to make it an annual event.

There’s a critical need for food assistance, and Catholic Social Services wants to step in and help, CEO Joe Mahoney said. The cooking competition will help them raise money to feed those in need, and it also helps to re-establish a sense of community lost during the pandemic, Mahoney said.

“Bottom line, it means more assistance, particularly food,” he said. “This is one of the strengths of the Catholic Church … working together to help the people in our community.”

The Rev. David Cappelloni, pastor of SS. Anthony and Rocco Parish in Dunmore, contemplated a few dishes before settling on castagnole. The fried dough dessert includes ricotta cheese, rum, whiskey, lemon juice and lemon rind. It’s a traditional dish from the part of Italy his family is from, and it’s often eaten on Fat Tuesday, he said.

He felt a bit strange cooking and narrating on camera, but his two great nieces lent a hand, he said.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing to try to raise money to aid the food programs of Catholic Social Services,” Cappelloni said.

Although he had to navigate a burnt-crouton fiasco, the Rev. Brian J.T. Clarke, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Archbald, successfully made vegetarian carbonara with Caesar salad and homemade dressing.

“It was great to kind of be able to join efforts with Catholic Social Services to draw awareness on hunger,” he said, describing it as stressful but fun.

By giving people a glimpse into the lives of their priests as they cooked, it showed parishioners clergy also have to take care of things in the house, Clarke said.

“I think that most people think that we’re pretty useless in the kitchen,” he said, laughing.