The two winners of a cooking contest in the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin this year were Father Chris Gernecke and Deacon Michael Pipitone
Ever since Julia Child launched her television cooking show, audiences have been drawn to watching chefs cook. These later shows include Sliced, Top boss and Chef. This must have inspired Catholic communities to join cooking competitions such as Rectory, Set, Cook; The holy cooking competition of St. Augustine and cooks with collars. Although not all are televised, most competitions are filmed and, like Cooks with Collars, posted on the company’s website.
Last year, the Catholic Diocese of Madison Foundation’s (CDMF) Great Match of Mercy saw four local priests compete in a baking competition to raise funds for Works of Mercy. At the beginning of the summer this year, CDMF again sponsored The Great Mercy Match, which was an Italian kitchen. The local bishop, Bishop Hing, chose Italian dishes to honor the Italian saint Padre Pio, for his many works of charity. In this way, CDMF can bring money to support food pantries, homeless shelters and St. Vincent de Paul councils.
The two winners this year, who cooked together, were Father Chris Gernecke, pastor of St. Peter, Ashton and St. Martin of Tours, Martinsville, both in Wisconsin, and his colleague, Deacon Michael Pipitone, director of the parish school. Before the race, the two vowed to donate to a new ministry supporting pregnancy loss at St. Peter’s Parish. Of course, what they came up with – sausage and creamor sausage in pasta with cream sauce — came out a winner!
A native of Wisconsin, Father Gernecke grew up in the small town of Evansville in a devout Catholic family. He noted that up until the 8th grade he considered the priesthood, but when he went to college, his focus shifted. “When I was in college,” he said, “I studied nursing and dated a bunch of girls. Finally, I said, “Okay, Lord, what do you want me to do.” He admitted that he hadn’t really practiced his faith, but then he went back to Mass and prayed the rosary every day.
“I found time to pray,” he said, “and after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, one evening I prayed before the Holy Communion and placed it on the table. The Lord said: “Go to the seminary” and I went to the seminary “Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Paul” in Minnesota.”
He credits his cooking skills to both of his parents, who he said were good cooks with delicious meat and potatoes dishes. “In the seminary and as a priest, I assisted a bishop [Robert] Morlino, who could have been a five-star chef. I learned a lot from him. My parents taught me the basics, and Bishop took me to the next level. … I was his sous-chef, and that was certainly helpful in culinary formation.”
His cooking buddy, Deacon Michael Pipitone, grew up in Rockford, Illinois, attended Catholic high school and then attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. He discerned another vocation and became a permanent deacon. He then moved to Wisconsin at the invitation of Father Scott Jablonski, who invited him to the Diocese of Madison to be the director of “Blessed Trinity”. However, Pipitone said, after a few years he became principal of St. Peter’s Catholic School in Middleton, Wisconsin, with Father Gernecke as pastor.
“I got a lot of my cooking knowledge from my grandparents,” he said. “Growing up, I was always with my grandmother in the kitchen, and even when I went to high school and college, I always worked part-time in a restaurant or coffee shop. My uncle owned a pizzeria in Rockford that inspired me.
With his Italian cooking background and his admiration for (and inspiration from) Italian chef genius Lidia Bastianich, it’s no wonder that Father Gernecke and Deacon Pipitone enjoy spending time together in the kitchen and even preparing Italian dishes. As the deacon said, “I have worked with Father Chris and we are very foodies and love to cook. We both decided to cook a big Italian meal for the parishioners last spring at our annual charity dinner and people loved the food.”
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Sausage in cream paste
As the chefs said, “Never wash pasta noodles or add extra oil to them. The starch is what makes the sauce stick to the noodles.
- 1-1/2 pounds Italian sausage, browned and drained of fat
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- One small to medium onion, peeled and diced
- Sprinkle with pepperoncino flakes, toasted
- 1 pint half and half
- 2 cups grated Parmesan
- 1 pound pasta, Mostaccioli-style noodles, unrinsed
- Freshly grated black pepper
Fry the sausage in a pan and remove it when cooked. Add olive oil and heat over medium heat. Cook the diced onion until heated through. Add the pepperoncino flakes to half and heat the cream over medium-low heat. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Continue to mix thoroughly, then add 1 cup Parmesan cheese and continue to mix. The sauce will thicken quickly.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the Italian sausage and diced onion. When the sausage is reheated, add the noodles and serve. Add the remaining parmesan to the serving bowl, sprinkle with some black pepper and serve.