Chicago Catholic sister competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

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CHICAGO -- When a young woman takes vows of obedience and poverty, she makes a pact with God to stay in the shadows, and to put the needs of others before her own.

Service is what 30-year-old Franciscan Sister Alicia Torres agreed to -- never seeking the spotlight.

However, a bit of celebrity is coming to her Monday night.

The woman responsible for feeding hundreds of West Siders each month will be featured on Food Network's "Chopped."

"I think it brings people together, and that's the bottom line," Sister Alicia said about her carefully crafted meals.

The competition selected Sister Alicia along with three others committed to soup kitchen cooking.

The winner of the three-course, three-round reality show will take home ten thousand dollars for his or her charity.

"This is an opportunity to highlight a major problem in our country- the fact that people are hungry and that there is food anxiety," said Father Bob Lombardo, who runs the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, where Sister Alicia and her fellow religious maintain a mobile food pantry and welcome neighbors to monthly community dinners.

Sister Alicia describes her cooking to be motivated by her love for Jesus. "When I cook, I want to share that love, and I try to put care into everything that I make for every person that I serve," she said.

To Father Bob, that care is evident- and edible. "I think when you put in that amount of time and that famous secret ingredient, love, you put out a really good meal that people will enjoy," he said.

Erika Wright, who lives nearby Our Lady of the Angels, looks forward to Sister Alicia's famous meatballs. The hospitality offered at the mission have made it a beacon of hope for her amid so much neighborhood need. "That's why so many more people come again, and again," Wright said. "They all talk a lot about how good the food is here."

The area surrounding the 3800 block of West Iowa defines what has come to be termed a "food desert." Convenience stores offer the closest food option for most living in the neighborhood; they are expensive and unhealthy.

"Most of us have to get on a bus," said Agnes Hall, who lives near Pulaski and Karlov. "The nearest big food store to me is on Ashland."

That's more than a three-mile trip. Food is always plentiful, though, in Sister Alicia's kitchen.

"What it really is about is how can I be a good steward of everything coming in and make the most delicious meal possible with the ingredients we have right now," Sister Alicia said.

Right now, the community pantry is low. Perhaps national attention Monday night will highlight this local year-round need.

"There's always a big emphasis at Christmas time," Father Bob said. "People also eat in January, February, March, April and June."

Sister Alicia asks that Chicagoans tune in both Monday night and to how all of us can help.

"People would recognize the power of God's providence at work here at Our Lady of the Angels, as well as so many places in the Chicago area, and from that recognition know that I can do something to make a big difference to end hunger in our city."

For more on the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels: missionola.com

You can see Sr. Alicia on the Food Network on Monday, November 9th at 7pm