‘Chopped’ champ nun: ‘Divine providence’ helps create meals for hungry

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Though she had never seen an episode of “Chopped,” Sister Alicia Torres’ work at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in West Humboldt Park probably prepared her for the reality cooking show more than most of the chefs who compete on Food Network shows.

Torres may lack formal culinary training, but most days she confronts a providential assortment of donated ingredients as she plans menus for groups that might include just a priest and handful of nuns in her order — or several hundred hungry Humboldt Park neighbors.

Torres, 30, who took her vows as a sister of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago last month, more than made the cut on Monday’s “Thanksgiving Souper-Stars” episode of “Chopped,” which featured four cooks from shelters and missions. Torres bested the field and won a $10,000 donation for the mission from the Food Network.

“At the mission, we depend on divine providence for everything,” Torres said, noting that benefactors often will fill specific requests, but mostly they rely on donated goods from area grocery chains.

“You get the combination of basic staples, and all of these exciting things from Whole Foods, or Jewel or Mariano’s. . . . It’s given me a lot of opportunities to be creative in the kitchen.”

The improvisational skills she developed meshed well with the format of the show, in which contestants are given several batches of random ingredients and prepare three courses.

Torres avoided getting “Chopped” on Monday’s episode. She won the contest with quesadilla appetizers made from leftovers, an entree of curry chicken with sweet potato-cranberry hash, and dessert cobbled together from ice cream cake, green bean ice pops, and mashed potato candy.

Torres, who talked to the Chicago Sun-Times by phone while preparing dinner Tuesday, said she hoped her TV appearance would raise awareness of hunger and the mission, which provides food and clothing to 700 families a month and has an after school program that serves hundreds of youths.

“That $10,000 [prize] will buy a lot of food for a neighborhood that’s classified as a food desert,” Torres said. “Everyone in this city has time, talent or treasure to share and help if they really think about it.”

To donate to Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, go to www.missionola.com.

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