November 17, 2015
By Mary Alice Maloney
On November 9, The Food Network aired a special Thanksgiving-themed episode of their hit show Chopped, a cooking competition show that features four chefs who battle against each other in three 30-minute rounds of creative culinary challenges. The Thanksgiving episode titled “Thanksgiving Soup-er Stars” featured four chefs who dedicate their time and talents working in soup kitchens around the country. Each contestant was competing to win $10,000 to be donated to the charity of their choice.
Sister Alicia Torres, a nun in the order of Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago and a student in the Masters of Arts of Teaching program here at Dominican, was one of the four chefs in this special episode.
Sr. Alicia devotes her time working with the mission at Our Lady of the Angels in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Our Lady of Angels is run by the Franciscan religious community, which provides services for the poor and underprivileged.
“Food is part of our outreach,” said Sr. Alicia. “We serve 700 families each month providing them with food, clothing and household goods. I love cooking and cook nearly every day for my Franciscan Community and for different events throughout the month that serve our neighbors. We have an emphasis on satisfying not only physical hunger, but also spiritual hunger.”
With a $10,000 donation coming their way, Our Lady of the Angels can grow their service programs and continue providing meals and programs to their community members. They have a weekly food pantry, a monthly mobile pantry, weekly senior citizens’ programming and daily after school programs, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the YMCA of Metro Chicago.
Sr. Alicia entered the Franciscan community in 2009, but she just recently professed her final vows on October 4. She is continuing her studies at Dominican with the goal of becoming a religious educator.
When the opportunity to appear on Chopped presented itself, Sr. Alicia knew she wanted to try.
“Chopped was looking for religious sisters to apply for the show and I heard about it and told my superior that I thought I had a good chance,” said Sr. Alicia. “He gave me permission to apply and I went through the application and interview process as any other potential competing chef would.”
Sr. Alicia does not have any professional training in the culinary arts, but cooking and being creative with food are certainly not foreign to her.
“I started cooking as a young teenager,” said Sr. Alicia. “Much of my kitchen time in high school was spent baking homemade breads and cakes.
Working at Our Lady of the Angels has allowed Sr. Alicia to develop her cooking skills in a meaningful way.
“I am a naturally very creative person, so cooking is a way I’ve really expressed that as a religious sister,” said Sr. Alicia. “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. Not only is it an opportunity to be artistic, but even more importantly, to show our deep gratitude to God and our benefactors for their generosity that sustains our life and our work.”
While the competition was stiff in the Chopped kitchen, Sr. Alicia said that the competition never got ugly due to the common mission of shared between all of the contestants: serving the underprivileged. Each contestant was presented the challenge of transforming Thanksgiving leftovers into a new meal. In the first round, Sr. Alicia took turkey, green beans, cranberries and mashed potatoes and created a Mexican-themed appetizer that included a turkey quesadilla and a green bean salsa. She also dominated in both the entrée and dessert rounds, demonstrating her artistry with food and proving that she deserved to be crowned the winner. The judges commended Sr. Alicia for her ability to truly rework the mystery box ingredients to create something as ingenious as it was delicious.
While Sr. Alicia is proud that she emerged victorious from her Chopped experience, she hopes more than anything that this episode will bring awareness to the issue of hunger in America.
“I wanted to represent the least among us, the very poor, who are so dear to Jesus,” said Sr. Alicia. “Our vocation as religious is to live a life of prayer, witness and service and being on Chopped certainly gave a great opportunity to share that message with the world.”