Father Woody McCallister helps priests gain confidence in their cooking skills
Father Richard “Woody” McCallister knows his way around the kitchen. He grew up keeping a close eye on his dad, who made special meals for the family, but not without a few disasters. No matter. “Be bold in the kitchen,” the elder McCallister always told his son.
Once, his father made a beautiful Bolognese sauce for spaghetti. Everything was fine until he decided to add dried spinach for extra nutrition — lots of it. The sauce came out black, and the four McCallister kids weren’t happy. Another time, he threw some sardines in his sauce but didn’t tell anyone. When the family’s youngest daughter started to dig in, she noticed an eyeball staring at her.
Today, if Father Woody were to add anything to the family’s cooking motto, it might be “have fun in the kitchen.” That’s what he does, and that’s what he has tried to pass on to the priests of the Archdiocese of Seattle. For 10 years or so, Father Woody, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Vancouver and a priest for 26 years, has taught a cooking class at Priest Days, the annual June clergy gathering in Ocean Shores.
Father Woody McCallister
“The class aims at showing priests that cooking isn’t so hard,” Father Woody said, and that “there are worse cooks around, so you can get over the fears.”
One year, his class featured an “All-Flaming Menu” with saganaki, a Greek cheese appetizer; steak au poivre; and bananas Foster, all set on fire at one point or another. (A chef can’t get much bolder than that!) In the run-up to the class, his sous chef, Father Tony Bawyn, judicial vicar for the archdiocese and priest at St. Anne Parish in Seattle, dropped by Father Woody’s rectory kitchen for a practice session with the tenderloins. He was asked to crush the peppercorns.
“When he saw me gently crushing a few peppers with the bottom of a cast-iron skillet,” Father Bawyn wrote in an email, “he took the pan out of my hand, struck the peppers with robust force and let out a scream. He then gave back the pan to me and said, ‘Do it like that.’”
This year at Priest Days, Fathers Woody and Bawyn will focus on what they call “do-ahead dinners.” Day 1 will be prep for the meal, and Day 2 will be execution. The idea is to make it easy for priests to enjoy time with their guests should they decide to cook for family or parishioners at the rectory.
I suspect that’s a bold idea for many of our busy priests, but Father Woody has no fear:
“I learned from Daddy’s disasters,” he said.
Father Woody’s steak au poivre
Photo: Rachel Bauer
- 4 tenderloin steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
- 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup Cognac
- 1 cup whipping cream
Salt the steaks, top and bottom. Let them stand at room temperature for about an hour.
Crush the peppercorns. Some people like a mortar and pestle; others use a mallet and a pie pan. Father Woody apparently likes to crush them with the bottom of a cast-iron pan. Spread the broken-up peppercorns evenly on a plate so you can press the steaks into them, coating the surface of the fillets. (“The fun part is breaking up the peppercorns with some aggression,” Father Woody told me.)
Melt the butter and add the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When they start to smoke, place the steaks in the pan. (For rare, you’ll need about 3–4 minutes on each side.) Remove the steaks to a plate, and cover them with tin foil while you deal with the sauce.
Get rid of the excess fat in the pan, but don’t scrape it clean. You’ll want those nubbins for flavor. Away from the heat, add the Cognac and then ignite the alcohol. Shake the pan until the flames die. Return the pan to the heat, add the whipping cream and then whisk the mixture for about 5 minutes. Season with an extra splash of Cognac if you’d like and add a little more salt until the sauce is to your liking.
Return the steaks to the pan, and coat with the sauce.
Northwest Catholic - June 2017
Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.