WHAT IS THE POPE'S favorite food?
"Whatever I receive," was Pope John Paul II's humble reply to a youngster at a Denver children's home during the pope's 1993 World Youth Day visit.
What he receives normally on such an occasion, however, is the finest cuisine a caterer can offer. During his four-day Denver stay, the pontiff dined on bacon-wrapped filet mignon, giant grilled shrimp and marinated swordfish steaks, along with edible flowers - pansies and marigolds with raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
In Baltimore, however, Pope John Paul will have a single meal, George Thompson's creamed chicken casserole, which he will dTC share with 22 guests at Our Daily Bread, the soup kitchen next door to the Basilica of the Assumption.
Served over rice, the chicken casserole is one of the favorites at the soup kitchen, said Mr. Thompson, 80, who declines to disclose his recipe. Side dishes will include peas and carrots and dinner rolls, with chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream for dessert. There will be plenty of iced tea to wash it all down.
A Windsor Hills resident and volunteer at Our Daily Bread since it opened 14 years ago, Mr. Thompson is excited but not overawed about cooking for the pope. He's used to famous personalities after 38 years as a bartender at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, the hangout for GOP leaders. He did catering on the side.
"We're pretty cool here. I'm used to dealing with things like this," Mr. Thompson said. "I've been with presidents and senators and their guests. I never had an idea that I'd be cooking for the pope, though."
Mr. Thompson said his instructions were brief. "We've been told that he wants us to do what we do every day. It wouldn't be a soup kitchen if we did something for him that we wouldn't do otherwise. It's much more beautiful this way."
The chicken casserole, which is served about once a month, "is simple to do and can be served easily and quickly," so the pontiff can eat and rest before he resumes his tour, Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Thompson said he and three helpers will start preparing the food Saturday and will put the casserole together Sunday in time to have it piping hot when the pope arrives after saying Mass at Oriole Park and leading a procession to the basilica.
Pope John Paul's luncheon guests will be representatives of six of the 50 programs run by Associated Catholic Charities that serve 50,000 people each year and will include homeless people, immigrants, the developmentally disabled and a single mother.
About 800 people a day eat lunch at Our Daily Bread. During the pope's visit they will have the same meal but it will be served at the nearby St. Alphonsus school on Saratoga Street. That meal will be provided by the volunteer cooks at the city parishes who supply much for the soup kitchen's food on a regular basis.
While Pope John Paul is lunching at Our Daily Bread, other members of the hierarchy in Baltimore for the visit will have a buffet at Cardinal Keeler's residence that will include crab cakes, corn and buttermilk biscuits.
"It will be a typical Tidewater meal when the family comes for Sunday dinner. The literal and figurative taste of Maryland," said archdiocesan spokesman Bill Blaul.
What Pope John Paul eats on the road and what he chooses from his own kitchen in the Vatican apparently differ widely.
Before the Denver trip, the Chicago Tribune reported that John Paul's favorite diet is "pasta and pizza." His reported interest in the Italian staples may reflect his lengthening tenure in Rome, however.
Health magazine studied the pope's gastronomic tastes in October 1983, and concluded that while they are catholic, he leans toward his native Polish cuisine.
Kielbasa sausage shows up on the breakfast menu, Health reported, with zurek, a potato soup made with sourdough bread and kielbasa, as a luncheon feature followed by babka, Polish coffeecake, for dessert.
For dinner he enjoys blini, buckwheat pancakes made with flour sent to him from Poland, accompanied by fresh vegetables and followed by fruit and coffee or cheese and biscuits. A glass of wine or Polish beer accompanies the meal.