THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF ZEN BUDDHIST CHEF JEONG KWAN FOOD FOR THOUGHT
One of the world’s greatest chefs can’t be found in a restaurant. Instead, she serves fellow nuns and occasional visitors in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Korea.
To fully describe the incredible success of Jeong Kwan, you must first consider a factor that Western cuisine has ignored for millennia. While most people would assume Korean food is all about its famed barbecue, another pillar of the culture goes largely unacknowledged: Korean temple cuisine, which originated in the country’s Buddhist monasteries. A philosophy of Zen Buddhism is to not crave food and satisfy yourself only enough to be prepared for meditation, so you might think that flavor would be of little consequence in a monastery’s kitchen. However, you’d be wrong. The West’s perception of Korean temple cuisine was challenged shortly after Eric Ripert visited Kwan’s monastery and experienced her cooking during a trip to Korea. Ripert invited Kwan to New York City to prepare food in a private room at Le Bernardin, where she sent global shockwaves through the entire fine cuisine community. New York Times writer Jeff Gordinier described her plates as “so elegant, they could’ve slipped into a tasting menu at Benu or Blanca” and her flavors as “assertive,” all while being vegan. More and more critics realized
that Kwan’s combination of foraging, fermenting, dehydrating, and cooking by season was not a modern practice. In fact, Zen Buddhist monks like Kwan mastered cooking in this tradition hundreds of years ago. “With food, we can share and communicate our emotions. It’s that mindset of sharing that is really what you’re eating,” Kwan says at the start of her titular episode of Netflix’s documentary series “Chef’s Table.” She continues, “There is no difference between cooking and pursuing Buddha’s way.” Whether for enlightenment or simply connecting with friends and family, sharing home-cooked meals can be an emotionally restorative experience as much as it is nourishing. This month, indulge in something special and homemade or try your hand at Korean temple cuisine by Googling some of Jeong Kwan’s recipes.
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“This is my third physical therapy session here, so I am a frequent-flyer. It’s not fun to have so many joint issues! Each time has been for a different reason, and this time it was post-knee replacement surgery. I came twice a week for 12 weeks, and it was easy to schedule my appointments. I progressed from feeling very stiff and painful to feeling less stiff and not experiencing any pain. I was told that knee PT hurts a lot, and the therapist would push me to a high level of pain. Clearly, that is not the philosophy here! They would never inflict more pain than I could handle. Let’s be honest, post-knee replacement is much more difficult than I had imagined, so a little pain was expected. I learned gradually how to improve balance, and they taught me specific exercises to do at home to improve my strength. I am now walking 5 miles and playing golf again! “They focus on the activities that you were doing before your injury so that you can do them again. It truly is amazing how the therapists seem to know exactly what to do, almost as if they had gone through the same thing and knew how it felt. This time I worked with Beth and Leslie, and they were both amazing and understanding. The best part was the leg/knee massage! I will miss that very much!
“My therapy was during the unprecedented COVID-19 period of 2020, and they took all the precautions with wearing masks and cleaning so I still felt safe coming to PT.
“Hmmm … what will I need next? The other knee? A hip? I HOPE NOT, but if I do, I will be coming here for PT.”
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