Father Dominic Garramone has spent 20 years trying various pizza recipes on his fellow monks at St. Bede Abbey in Peru, IL.
The practice started because the Abbey observes meatless Fridays throughout the year. Thursday evenings were spent talking and eating -- and Garramone dished up the pizza.
The former host of the PBS cooking show, “Breaking Bread with Father Dominic,” was in St. Charles County on Jan. 28, demonstrating his pizza-making skills at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service in St. Charles County in front of a sold-out crowd.
The live charity event was a fundraiser for the care service and other groups, and was organized by the Harvester Knights of Columbus. A portion of the proceeds were donated to various charities.
I consider pizza to be the fifth food group, and I told Garramone so. He laughed.
“I have always been a baker,” he said.
His mom asked him and his siblings to help her with the cooking, and she would use that opportunity to teach.
“It’s where I learned to count and do fractions. The kitchen was where we were a family and learned how to be a family, taking turns and working cooperatively.”
A community can be a family, an abbey or in a church. This night was a chance for community to come together for good food and a good cause.
Garromone stood at the microphone behind a kitchen counter and prepared pizza, providing directions with humor and flair.
He really liked the look of the high ceilings in the room.
“We may get some hang-time,” he said as he began to hand-toss the first pizza crust. With the advice to “use your knuckles” and “get your cameras ready” Garramone tossed it and dropped it on the floor.
It was swiftly retrieved.
“It’s OK. Met the 5 second rule!” someone from the crowd shouted.
Garramone looked a bit sheepish but reminded us that this pizza dough will be cooked at 500 degrees and any germs will be taken care of. Later he brought out the pizza that had been dropped, cooked with asparagus and mornay sauce. “I wonder who should get this?” he asked.
It was hard not to beg.
The second pizza Garramone tossed he caught. This time he made Italian Beef pizza. As he worked, Garramone told a story about the last year of his father’s life.
“My father was a photographer,” he said. “Each week I sent him a card with a photo I had taken. I told him about my work and things going on. I let him know I loved him. When he died, they found him in his favorite chair with a stack of those cards by the chair. Remember to say all the things you want to say to the people that matter.”
He paused and then said, “You weren’t expecting a homily tonight were you? It doesn’t excuse you. You still have to go to church tomorrow!”
Betty and Ron Schippers attended Saturday’s event.
“I just love Father Dom,” said Betty Schippers. “I got hooked with the first TV show.”
Between pizza demonstrations, Garromone mingled. I believe he went to every table and chatted, maybe more than once. He shook hands and paused for photos.
Sharing a meal brings people together. The experience of “breaking bread together”-- even if it is fabulously delicious pizza crust--creates a shared experience of food and fellowship, if only for an hour or two.
People talk over a meal. I think it’s harder to stay mad at someone when you are eating a meal together. Ask for forgiveness over really good pizza sometime. It may help.
Food and fun from the hands and the heart of a faithful man. That’s what Saturday’s event was all about.
Next time, I’m buying a ticket so I can sit down and eat.
If you have missed the television series or would like an opportunity to see Garramone in action, St. Louis PBS television Nine Network will broadcast “Pizza Night with Father Dom” on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 4 to 5 p.m.
A new book focuses on baking for beginners and is titled “How to Become a Bread Head.”