French bishop gives online course on “ecclesiastical cuisine”

By Claire Riobé, 16 January 2021
Archbishop Dominique Lebrun (left) of the Archdiocese of Rouen, France, and his vicar general Fr Alexandre Gérault during one of their cooking episodes. Image: Archdiocese of Rouen/YouTube 


Archbishop Dominique Lebrun and his vicar general in the Archdiocese of Rouen team up for a good-humoured culinary series that offers tasty recipes to YouTube viewers

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun and his vicar general in Rouen Archdiocese in northern France, Father Alexandre Gérault, have put aside their albs and donned aprons. At least temporarily.

The two clerics went on the archdiocese’s YouTube channel on December 28 and offered gourmands the first episode of an unusual “ecclesiastical cooking” course.

In roughly ten minutes of video, they devoted 80% of the footage to actually cooking, while seasoning the other 20% with biblical references.

The whole thing, which was filmed in the kitchen of a rectory in Normandy’s capital, is sprinkled with good humour and coated with a layer of self-mockery.

The idea to do the cooking show came during the coronavirus lockdown, “at a time when the weather was a bit gloomy and we wanted to do a fun activity together”, admits Father Gérault.

But it was actually a couple of employees in the chancery who encouraged the 63-year-old archbishop and his 47-year-old vicar general to do videos preparing their favourite recipes.

The two priests decided to dub it “ecclesiastical cuisine” for the faithful.

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The balance between cooking and talking about faith is subtle, but it works. Although the two clergymen from Rouen are used to cooking together, they don’t take their role as chefs too seriously.

After they filmed their first episode featuring Coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops cooked in saffron sauce), the comments from Catholics in Rouen were not long in coming.

“Thank you! Our family tried the recipe,” said one.

“We feel the humanity of the priests,” another wrote enthusiastically.

The way to evangelisation is through the kitchen

While the archbishop and his assistant offer their cooking tips, the virtual format and the relaxed atmosphere of the episodes also gives them an opportunity to evangelise in a way very different from the classic hierarchical and institutional framework of the Church.

The two men admit that they have fun doing the shows, but they say the real idea is to “pass on little messages”.

The second episode, which featured a recipe for the classic French pastry Tarte Tatin, is full of them.

Archbishop Lebrun is busy at the stove while Father Gérault is busy gathering the ingredients.

In the middle of making the dessert, the archbishop slips in a reference to manna, which the Israelites received in the desert. And then in passing, he mentions the Jewish Passover and Christ’s last supper.

“If Jesus had been born in Normandy, I have no doubt that he would have used butter, cream and apples,” Father Gérault jokes.

“Through cooking and the example of manna, we want to show that God embraces history, he reaches out to women and men in their daily lives,” the priest says.

“We want to reveal how close God is to the Hebrew people, and also how close he is to us today. God is incarnate!”

A human face for the Church

A week after their first postings, the videos had been viewed several thousand times.

People who work in the archdiocese say a “contagious joy” spread quickly among those who saw the shows and had fun cooking their recipes alone or with their families.

“The videos have led to a wider movement, and that’s pretty cool!” they testify.

Father Gérault, who does not use social media, hopes that the videos will help renew the way Christians and non-Christians look at the Church.

“In fact, the institutional aspect of the Church exists, but it must always be linked to a side that is more level. The Church, which we represent, is traversed by these two movements. If one side is accentuated to the detriment of the other, it is not quite right,” the vicar general says.

Due to a tight schedule, he and Archbishop Lebrun will not broadcast new recipes every week.

“People should not get the idea that all we are doing is cooking!” the archbishop exclaims.

But he says they are not ruling out the possibility of publishing new videos from time to time throughout the year.

Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.


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