Sister Alicia Torres became the Chopped champion on the Food Network’s reality TV cooking show, winning $10,000 for Our Lady of the Angels Mission to provide more home-cooked meals for neighbors in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.
“The Lord gave me this talent,” Torres told the show’s judges who ribbed her for harboring some secret culinary training. “I believe the kitchen is my canvas where I get to express myself creatively.”
Torres, 30, was one of four chefs cooking with the typical makings of a conventional Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, green beans, potatoes and cranberries – on the special volunteer edition of the show that aired Oct. 9. Bonnie Kepplinger, 74, a volunteer for the Crib, a Chicago homeless shelter that draws many gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender youths, survived one round but lost the entree portion.
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In the appetizer round, Torres transformed leftovers into Mexican-style quesadillas. Kepplinger made deep-fried turkey croquettes and potato balls with a green bean salad and cranberry dressing. For the entree, Torres made a Mediterranean-style dish with curry turkey, a sweet potato cranberry hash and a dipping sauce with goat cheese and green beans.
Kepplinger braised a turkey, blanched green beans and created a tart cranberry salad, but failed to get the potatoes on the plate.
“I think time did get the best of me, but I also think my muse just conked out,” Kepplinger said on the show. The Night Ministry, the Chicago nonprofit that oversees the shelter where Kepplinger volunteers, still received a donation from the Food Network, as did the other charities represented on that show.
In an interview Monday, Kepplinger, recalling the 1966 film The Singing Nun, said she was so impressed with Torres that she expects the “cooking nun” to be a regular on TV soon.
Torres said she has not entertained offers to host her own cooking show. But she does know that whatever the future holds, it “will be for God’s glory and to help serve my brothers and sisters here on the West Side and wherever God calls me to serve.”
Torres helped found the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago on the city’s West Side and recently professed vows. The new Franciscan community is devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, evangelization and service to Chicago’s poor.
“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.”
About 25 neighbors and friends joined Torres on Nov. 9 to see the show and hear about her experience. Guests enjoyed her trademark flourless chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil topped with goat cheese and Chardonnay frosting.