How the female Buddhist monk became one of the most revered cooks in Asia

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(CNN) – It’s a busy Saturday morning for Jeong Kwan, a South Korean Buddhist monk.

After thinking about it early in the morning Cooking and breakfast, she tends her garden in Baekyangsa, a temple in Naejangsan National Park, south of Seoul.

The air is filled with the scent of coriander flowers in bloom. The wild deer eats the leaves of the garden.

Growing eggplants and green peppers. The cabbages he planted for the winter were full and ready to be harvested.

“It’s beautiful because it has a lot of energy – it grew up in the cold winter,” the monk told CNN Travel via translation, pulling out his arms to reveal how many captains of this year.

The unfortunate star lord

Jeong Kwan dedicated himself to Buddhism at the age of 17.

Jeong Kwan dedicated himself to Buddhism at the age of 17.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

Jeong Kwan – his Buddhist name – is not your typical monk. Her temple cooking was approved by renowned chef Éric Ripert of Le Bernardin in a 2015 New York Times article written by food writer Jeff Gordinier. An entire episode of the popular Netflix series, “Chef’s Table,” dedicated to him.
Most recently, it was the recipient of Asia’s Best Food Award in 2022. Nominated by more than 300 members of the School Award, it celebrates the culinary arts that have inspired and encourage others.

But his world has not changed in the slightest.

“I’m so honored to receive the Icon Award … As you can see, I’m a monk, not a trained chef. It’s amazing to hear people around the world get excited. to Korean food, ”says Jeong Kwan.

“Even with those blessings, I have to be humble and not let pride get into my heart. The truth is I love every person I meet.”

The chef dedicated himself to Buddhism in 1974, even though he said he felt like a young man at heart – even though his age and spirit had grown.

Unlike many, he had a sense of the life he wanted to live in his youth. She was in elementary school when she told her father that when she grew up, she would live alone.

When Jeong Kwan was 17, his mother died.

“I was sad and after 50 days I went to a temple. There I met other monks who became a new family for me. I got light and joy in the practice. to Buddhism.., practicing Buddhism, ”he said.

Three years into his training, he moved to his current home, Baekyangsa.

“The way to the temple was very gentle – no fuss and no fuss. I was very comfortable and peaceful. It was like going back to my mother’s arms,” ​​Jeong Kwan said. recalls his first visit to Baekyangsa.

45 years ago.

What a heiau food

All of Jeong Kwan’s dishes are vegan.

All of Jeong Kwan’s dishes are vegan.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

In 2013, Jeong Kwan decided to open the doors of the temple to visitors so that he could interact with people who wanted to learn about Buddhism – especially through his food.

“Temple food is a relationship that combines physical and mental energy. It’s all about increasing taste and nutrition from plants that are grown in moderation. spices or concoctions, “he said.

“Temple food is a part of my Buddhist work and journey to find yourself. I think Korean temple food will be added to people and continue to play that role.”

All of Jeong Kwan’s dishes are vegan and made with no garlic, glasses, spices, chives and leeks. (All five people believe that peace of mind is disturbed by inciting anger and lust.)

His food is made with The latest organic foods and fermented dishes and dishes such as peanut butter and kimchi – are grown or made in the temple.

There is no menu – he works with new products every day so the dishes are different.

Jeong Kwan believes that food can help balance the contents of our body by restoring our moisture or lowering our body to a more balanced state. An example is doenjang – Korean fermented bean paste – which the monk often used to create this balance in his diet. But it took a long time to do the doenjang.

He and the other villagers started cooking soya in November. They are then melted into meju – soybean stones – to dry and store. In April, salt water is added to meju. In May, the monks in the temple separated the salt water – now soy sauce – from the peanut butter.

“If you come to visit, you’ll see the part of the temple where we keep all the traditions – pastes and sweet potatoes – in pots. Kwan, his eyes shone as he spoke. For his food.

“This year’s peas are delicious because the weather is good.

He has soy beans, beans and radishes harvested in the bowls for two years now. These are his treasures in the temple.

“I’ll bring them if I have to move to a temple someday,” Jeong Kwan said.

“That’s the work of nature. It’s amazing how in fermenting, you change the energy of the original…”

Buddhism and human relations through food

"For me, food is important.  It can bring a strong bond between people," said Jeong Kwan.

“For me, food is important. It can bring a strong bond between people,” Jeong Kwan said.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

Jeong Kwan knew he loved food from a young age when he watched his mother cook.

In 1994, she decided to dedicate herself completely to cooking in the temple.

“For me, food is important. It can bring a strong bond between people,” Jeong Kwan said.

One of her most memorable moments was a visit to the temple from her father.

“‘Why do you want to stay here – you can’t eat meat here?'” He remembered asking.

“I made halo food for him and after he tasted it, he said, ‘I don’t like anything very good. Stay in the temple.'”

But her best memories are not of the food made in her own kitchen. Jeong Kwon was able to enjoy some amazing food while traveling abroad.

Once upon a time in a restaurant called Alain Passard, the famous French chef of the same name cooked a vegan meal for him.

“When I ate, I thought this was my food. There was no protection from the food. It was very comfortable and I was happy at home,” said the monk.

He has a special place in his heart for Le Bernardin’s Ripert.

“Chef Éric was one of the people who really let me down with my food. He helped dispel the feelings of people who are against temple food or vegan food. He really helped me. take it out of my shell, ”said the monk. .

Being free isn’t about “doing what you want,” Jeong Kwan adds.

“It’s not bound by remorse and guilt because you’re not following the practices you believe in.

A great example of this is cooking with an understanding of natural circles and following Buddhist values ​​and teachings.

Cooking is not about beauty

Jeong Kwan hopes he can use his newfound power to encourage others to think about the environment.

Jeong Kwan hopes he can use his newfound power to encourage others to think about the environment.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

Jeong Kwan believes that his science is very important in today’s world, full of problems such as disease, global conflicts and climate change.

“We’ve had chronic diseases and chronic diseases before. I believe this is related to our work against the environment,” the monk said.

He believes the community needs to focus on three key areas: tackling climate change, improving the environment and respecting all life.

“[By doing all three,] It can help us get back on track, ”Jeong Kwan said.

Eating and cooking with mindfulness enables us to “do all that we need in spirit and body” even in difficult times.

He hoped to be able to use his new power to spread these important words to the world.

“To me, cooking is not about being beautiful or showing hard skills but being one with food. I think we have become one.

“There will be heart and soul in the food by those who eat it and make a good circle and keep it going,” Jeong Kwan said.

His goal? To see others use a lifestyle that honors and respects nature and our environment, promotes a sustainable lifestyle and has a positive impact on changing the climate and saving lives.

“To do this, I have to change. Small projects start from myself and I think I can share this with other people in the world, including the best chefs in the world. Asia’s 50 Best community, ”Jeong Kwan said.

Baekyangsa A temple is located in Naejangsan National Park, about a 3 -hour drive from Seoul. There is an entry fee of KW3,000 (or $ 2.5) for daily visitors. You can join any of hers heiau residential projectswith the Temple Food Program showing a cooking class with Jeong Kwan.

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