A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
Saint Joseph Church in North Bend, Ohio, is the home parish of a local celebrity chef, Father Andrew Umberg. Featured recently on the television show “The Chef, You and I” with hostess Kathryn Raaker, Father Umberg demonstrated how to prepare one of his favorites: Pork Tonnato on a bed of arugula (recipe below).
His culinary passion began in childhood “I grew up in the western suburbs of Cincinnati,” he said. “My mom liked to cook, and with seven children over a 13-year age span, there were always kids around. We did not go out to restaurants often, so she cooked every night with recipes from newspapers and magazines, and a Betty Crocker cookbook,” adding that his mother was a good cook and liked cooking.
“My mom was very patient with me,” he said. “She always cleaned up after me and was always helpful. When I asked, she would always tell me the ingredients in all the dishes that I liked.” As a help to his culinary passion, Father Umberg added that both his grandmother and great-grandmother were excellent cooks as well.
He remembered his mother’s recipes, and when he got out of seminary and into a rectory with a kitchen, he tried creating and cooking more of his own dishes. He said, “I can analyze things as I eat them, figuring out the ingredients as if I were talking to the person who made the dish… When it comes to food, everything goes my way, a talent, a gift from God.”
As he reflected on his life as a priest, Father Umberg admitted that his first career choices had been a toss-up: to become a chef or a priest. Although he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, he did not like the idea of celibacy or the many years of school. “I decided to go a technical school to become a chef.”
But that did not work out. “I quit after just one year, knowing that I did not move fast enough to be a good chef, and I would have unhappy customers.” His game of trying to avoid the priesthood was up. “I knew that I would be untrue to my faith now if I did not do what I thought the Lord was calling me to do.”
His next step: studying to become a priest. To that end, Father Umberg attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati, for his priestly studies. And today, at his parish, he admits that most of his cooking is only at dinners for parishioners who win them in raffles and auctions at festivals and fundraisers. “People like my Italian Wedding Soup,” he said. “But it may not be too authentic, since I’m a German from Cincinnati!” This soup, a chicken soup with little meatballs, pasta and greens, is always his first course at these meals, followed by a salad, pork tenderloin with potatoes, and dessert.
Perhaps by Divine Providence, when Father Umberg became pastor of his new parish, Kathryn Raaker and her producer, both parishioners, heard about the priest’s fabled meals. “The recipes on the cooking show were almost all my own recipes” he said. And after eight shows, it seems that his appearance has cemented his culinary reputation. To see how he performed, go to https://thechefuandi.com/kathryn-fr-umberg-cook-favorites/.
Here is the recipe for Pork Tonnato, my own economical spin on Vitello Tonnato (i.e., veal with tuna-mayonnaise sauce). It is not the dish that everyone asks for, but people who like tuna generally have thought it was very good.
Pork Tonnato means "Tuna-ed Pork," that is, pork that has been flavored with a tuna-mayonnaise sauce. It is a dish from Northern Italy always served cold. In fact, I think it was a recipe to move leftover veal roast out of the refrigerator! It is a light dish, really nice for summer! I serve it on a bed of arugula, because that's how they serve it at my favorite restaurant in Rome!
I usually put minced garlic, kosher salt, olive oil, and rosemary on the outside of the tenderloin before I roast it. For a more complex and pungent flavor, stir into the mayonnaise ¼ teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice, and a small tin of anchovies with the oil they're packed in.
Serves 3 to 4
¾ cup mayonnaise
One 5-ounce can oil-packed tuna
12 to 14 thin slices, about 1/8-inch-thick, of roasted, then chilled, pork tenderloin.
One 5-ounce bag baby arugula
One 3.5-ounce jar nonpareil capers
At least eight hours ahead of time, combine the mayonnaise and tuna with its oil in a mixing bowl. It looks like you're making tuna salad, but the tuna will almost disappear into little splinters.
When it is time to serve, cover a chilled dinner plate with a bed of arugula. Put 4 or 5 slices of the chilled pork tenderloin in a pretty circle on the bed of arugula, leaving a space in the center. With a spoon, put a generous dollop of the tuna/mayonnaise sauce on each slice of pork, and spread it on each piece to cover the surface of the pork. Put another dollop in the center. Put about 5 capers (with a little brine) on the center dollop and another 5 on each slice of pork. Serve with some cracked black pepper, if desired.