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Father Jason Doke is noted by friends, family and parishioners for his cooking, a passion that started in childhood.
“My mom cooked for us because she was a good mother, not because she enjoyed it,” said Fr. Doke, pastor of St. Martin Parish in St. Martins and St. Michael Parish in Russellville.
“But my brother and I were interested because we liked to eat,” he said.
Fr. Doke’s family moved from Springfield to St. Louis toward the end of his elementary school years.
Although Sunday Mass was a big part of his upbringing, the future priest never attended a Catholic school.
Throughout high school, he was interested in science and aspired to be a physician.
He quickly realized upon beginning college at the University of Missouri that “medical school was not in the cards for me.”
But he did continue his studies in biology, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in biology.
During his studies, he began a passionate interest in brewing beer and even started working at a yeast laboratory to learn how to work with yeast.
He was thinking of food even in his studies.
After graduation, he began a job in a molecular biology lab on campus. While in that position, he began working on his master’s degree in food science.
It was in these years that Fr. Doke began to discern a call to Priesthood.
His discernment involved daily Mass, Scripture study with his pastor, and two trips to World Youth Day, one in Toronto and one in Germany.
He eventually finished his master’s degree in food science after entering the seminary.
He was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 2013.
A taste of home
“When we were growing up, there was no cable or Internet, so we watched cooking shows on PBS, and in college the Food Channel, and Emeril Lagasse,” Fr. Doke said of his brother and himself.
“We are both fairly hands-on, and wanted to try dishes, but there was a lot of trial and error,” he said. “My mom was willing and told us if we wanted ingredients, she would get them for us, and we would sit down and have dinner together.”
After attending Conception Seminary College in northwestern Missouri, Fr. Doke attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where his passion for food and cooking went up several notches.
“What really changed my cooking was when I was in seminary in Rome,” he stated.
He was in a class with 55 other men, and he was one of a few in his group who cooked.
“When we had an event,” he recalled, “they turned to me and often asked me to do a dinner for 40, 50 or 60 people. Once I made jambalaya for 300 people.”
In Rome, Fr. Doke even built his own smoker from an old water softener tank.
“When I was feeding a lot of people, I would buy pork loins because they were cheap,” he said. “So I figured I could feed 12 people per loin.
“The guys just loved it: a homemade meal of smoked pork, cheesy scalloped potatoes and grilled vegetables was great,” said Fr. Doke.
American food was a rare treat for the seminarians, so it was nice to be able to make some every now and then.
“I did that almost once a month and got pretty good at portioning for large groups,” he said.
Trying new things
Upon returning to the United States, Fr. Doke found that he really liked making pasta, especially ravioli, such as butternut squash ravioli.
“To make pasta dough,” he noted, “it’s just mixing flour and eggs together, and dribbling in water until it forms a ball. Let it rest, then roll it out until it is a sheet of pasta.
He occasionally cooks for parishioners, and every year, he auctions off an Italian-style dinner with antipasto, pasta, a meat dish, and Tiramisu for dessert.
He also makes his own cured meats for his antipasto platter.
“I like to eat,” he said. “And I like to experience food and try things I have not had before.
“Living in Europe, I traveled around and knew that you cannot experience a culture unless you experience their food,” he said.
He noted that sharing a meal is important because it was Christ who shared a special meal with his Apostles.
“It’s in that spirit of hospitality that I like to bring Christ to others,” said Fr. Doke. “I really enjoy cooking for others and being able to provide something that someone has never had before.”
Alexandra Greeley, a convert to Catholicism, 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.
Greeley, Andrea: ©2023 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register — ncregister.com.