David Geisser – Swiss Guard, professional chef, and international entrepreneur – learned to cook working beside his mother in the kitchen. “I love to eat!” he told the Register this week, in a phone interview from his native Switzerland. “And my mother is not a chef, but her cooking is so good! So at age 12 or 13, I watched my mother cooking, and I learned so much in my parents' kitchen.”

Geisser learned well. In his native Switzerland, he is a celebrity chef who has published four cookbooks. He teaches cooking classes, and he tours the world. On his Facebook page, he spotlights beautiful cuisine, well presented.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Register, Geisser talked about food, about his faith, and about the challenges of guarding the Pope.


Buon Appetito! The Vatican Cookbook

Best known of Geisser's cookbooks, and the only one available in English, is The Vatican Cookbook: Presented by the Pontifical Swiss Guard. As a member of the Swiss Guard (he recently completed two years of service protecting the Holy Father), he had been able to ask top Vatican officials about the pontiffs' favorite foods. Geisser explained that although he often had the opportunity to talk with the Pope, he did not ask him about his favorite recipes. Although he could have asked during those informal conversations, Geisser explained, “We decided to ask the Secretary of the Holy Father. The Secretary asked Pope Francis and, before him, Pope Benedict. This was a good decision,” said Geisser, “because he is our shepherd. He is the Holy Father.”

Pope Francis, Geisser revealed, has a sweet tooth. Some of Pope Francis' favorite dishes from his native Argentina are among the recipes included in The Vatican Cookbook, including empanadas; roast sirloin, known in Argentina as “colita de cuadril”; and “dulce de leche,” an Argentinian milk-based dessert.

St. John Paul II loved Polish pierogi (stuffed dumplings), and so a recipe is included in The Vatican Cookbook. Geisser also teaches readers how to prepare some of the Bavarian delicacies which are favorites of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, including sausages and a sweet cherry-flavored dessert. And the book includes recipes for classic dishes which were enjoyed by the patron saints of the Swiss Guards, as well as the guards' mealtime prayers.


Protecting the Holy Father

The Swiss Guards have a ceremonial role, in processions and events where the Holy Father is present; but they are also charged with protecting the pope and his guests. “Three or more times in a week,” said David Geisser, “the Holy Father would meet with a foreign dignitary: the president of a country, a head of state.” President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Queen Elizabeth II and others have visited the Holy Father at the Vatican, and it is the Guards' responsibility to keep them safe.

Soldiers in the Swiss Guard, Geisser explained, sign a two-year contract; after their first two years, they can decide whether to remain for six months – or for twenty years. During the first year, a guard must learn the duties, the language, and the people in the Vatican. Working at the entrance – at the gates to the left of St. Peter's Basilica, or at the Bronze Door on the right – a guard needs to be able to recognize every person who seeks to enter; so it's necessary to learn to recognize all the Vatican cardinals and staff.

One common misconception is that the Swiss Guard are hopelessly outdated, relying on halberds and swords and pikes. Those, David Geisser explained, are part of the uniform – but they have modern guns, as well as other defensive weapons such as a strong pepper spray. Geisser had never, during his two-year service, used a gun in defense of the Holy Father; but he did need to use the pepper spray. “Sometimes,” he revealed, “we had to bring a guy to the ground.” Another problem, he reported, is that in the area around St. Peter's Basilica, there are occasionally people who are deluded – who believe that they are Jesus or St. Peter. The guards must restrain aggressive tourists and protect the Holy Father from unexpected visitors.


Prayer in the Swiss Guard

Prayer, Geisser was quick to say, is very important: in the Swiss Guard, in the family, and in society. A young person should call upon God as he or she seeks the right husband or wife with whom to spend a lifetime. After a couple is married, they should make praying together (and praying for one another) a part of their daily life. In the Swiss Guard, the commander told his guards many times to pray the Rosary. Pope Francis had the same message: “Pray for me,” he would tell his guards.

Geisser noted that every prayer is good, but he especially loved the Rosary.