The Zen Cooking Way
The best chefs in the world travel to South Korea to meet Jeon Kwan, a Budhist nun and cook at the Baekyangsa temple. She uses only vegetables and sauces she ferments herself, some for years. It’s the cuisine of happiness.
Jeong Kwan is a Zen Buddhist nun at Baekyangsa temple in South Korea. She has a delicate frame, without being fragile. She looks vital but not young; experienced but not ancient. Her clothing is simple and impecable in neutral colour tones. With her shaved head, she appears almost genderless. The only thing about her that seems fixed and certain is the peace she emanates. Her harmonious movement transmits elegance and tranquillity. And Noma or any of the best restaurants in the world could serve her food.
Jeff Gordinier, a food critic at the New York Times, is one of Kwan’s most fervent admirers. Gordinier discovered Kwan through Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert, one of the best and most popular chefs in the world. Ripert brought Knaw to New York. Gordinier is the unifying thread on the “Chef’s Table” Nextflix episode about Kwan that gave the nun worldwide recognition.
Kwan’s international reputation was 60 years coming. Her life is an example of commitment and simplicity and will continue that way despite her fame. Jeong Kwan was born in Yeongju, in the North Gyeongsang province. She is the fifth of seven siblings and the third daughter. She was destined to be a farmer’s wife. At age six she began cooking by imitating what she saw her mother doing every day. Her only goal was to share happiness in a poor and hard-working environment. At age 17, when Kwan’s mother died, she decided to become a nun at a temple so that she would never make any children of her own as unhappy as she was when her mother died. That was in 1974. Kwan arrived at the temple door empty-handed and the nuns took her in. It was the end of her secular life and the beginning of a simple and austere monastic life. It was hard at first because of the lack of sleep. She almost quit from the exhaustion. The nuns woke at three in the morning and from the beginning they assigned Kwan to the kitchen. It was a happy match. Knawn liked it because it was a kind of mothering. Now her maternal cooking feeds the whole temple.