One of the most memorable experiences of my college days was a visit to a monastery in Lagrangeville, New York. A Catholic group on campus had organized a weekend outing to the nearby Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, a Benedictine community of monks. Students would spend the day helping the monks tend to the grounds and animals and doing whatever odd jobs needed to be done, and then we would be fed.
There was something special about this monastery's food, the trip's organizers insisted. This would be no ordinary cafeteria-style meal. This monastery had Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette, who had a gift, they said.
Despite the overcast sky and the unholy 7am meeting time, the day was rich and satisfying. We moved muddy rocks up and down the hill where the goats grazed, raked hay, mucked stalls and mended fences for hours on end. Sitting down at the hand-crafted wooden with my fellow toilers, we chatted like excited little birds, our bodies aching from the work and our bellies crying out for attention. When the brothers began to serve us the first course, a hearty stew with homemade bread, the table fell silent. This meal was one of the best darn stew any of us had ever tasted.
Imagine my surprise nearly a decade later when my mother surprised me with this book:
That landscape, that monk smiling up at me, it was so familiar!
"I know this guy!" I said.
"Oh?" my mom asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I've been here, this is the place!"
I jumped around excitedly, so happy to have rekindled the memory and to be holding some of the secrets of that delicious day in my hand. As it turned out, my mother had heard tell of this famous cooking monk in her health food circles, and had just had a feeling I would love this book.
Brother Victor-Antoine's recipes are fresh, healthy and hale. He focuses on vegetarian cuisine and simplicity, most often using the vegetables from his own garden. His books subtlety convey the notion that cooking can and should be a spiritual exercise, an expression of a greater commitment to a wholesome and fulfilling lifestyle.
Naturally it's a set of cookbooks I'd highly recommend. Not only are they delicious and extremely well-crafted recipes, but all proceeds from the book go to the upkeep of the Priory and allow it to continue its Ora et Labora, that is humbly working with one's hands to be self-sustaining. Theirs is a unique and inspiring endeavor.
See the monastery's books here: