Earlier this yr, Jeong Kwan obtained Asia’s 50 Finest Eating places’ prestigious Icon Award Asia 2022. We speak to the Korean Buddhist monk-turned chef who helped popularise temple delicacies.
For many years, Jeong Kwan used the Buddhist ideas of wholesome consuming and nil waste to plan recipes for the Chunjinam Hermitage at South Korea’s Baegyangsa temple within the province of South Jeolla.
A centuries-old custom preserved via Buddhist teachings, dynastic traditions and the on a regular basis practices of rural communities, Korean temple delicacies champions sustainability and an intrinsic connection between our thoughts and our environment. Free from meat, fish, dairy and the so-called pungent spices (onion, garlic, inexperienced onions, spring onions and leeks), temple meals makes use of historical strategies resembling fermentation and pickling to counterpoint the physique and soul.
Jeong Kwan’s meals reached the world stage when celebrated chef and fellow Buddhist Eric Ripert visited her temple and invited her to cook dinner in New York for a number of choose company inn2015. Since then, her holistic method to cooking has garnered her world recognition and a devoted episode on Netflix’s award successful Chef’s Desk sequence in 2017.
Earlier this yr, Jeong Kwan was awarded one of the prestigious accolades within the culinary world: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Icon Award Asia, becoming a member of star cooks resembling Seiji Yamamoto and Yoshihiro Murata, but doing so with none formal culinary coaching, a restaurant or precise clients.
Right here, Jeong Kwan talks a few life devoted to serving her temple and group via meals and Buddhist follow.
In Dialog With Jeong Kwan
How was it to obtain the Icon Award?
I’m extraordinarily honoured. I wish to thank the academy and Asia’s 50 Finest. As you already know, I’m a monk, not a skilled chef. I don’t have a set of recipes or a menu I comply with, nor do I’ve a restaurant that individuals can go to, like earlier recipients of the award.
Nevertheless, I’m all the time comfortable to cook dinner for others and share constructive power via meals. You’re a monk in addition to a celebrated chef.
How do you mix each?
I’ve been requested this many instances over time. Nevertheless, whether or not it was a number of years in the past, or right now, I’m the identical. I haven’t modified and my coronary heart in the direction of cooking is identical. Every thing I do, I give it my all, whether or not it’s cooking or talking. I’ve met many individuals all through my life and each individual I meet or cook dinner for, I all the time put my coronary heart into what I do. Even with such accolades, I would like to remain humble and never let satisfaction into my coronary heart. Real sincerity is how I greet each individual I meet.
What’s the essence of temple meals?
Temple meals is the connection that brings bodily and psychological power collectively. It’s environmentally pleasant and respects and helps life. It’s about maximising the style and diet from plant-based components with restricted seasoning or added condiments.
Temple delicacies is a part of my Buddhist follow and the journey of discovering oneself. Individuals who cook dinner and eat temple meals are all on a journey to seek out out who they’re. I feel Korean temple delicacies connects folks collectively and can proceed to play that function.
Seasonal dishes that remember and respect your environment are on the core of your delicacies. How do you give you new recipes?
I attempt to eat and use seasonal components. Spring, summer season, autumn and winter, the 4 distinct seasons of Korea every have their particular traits and so do the components that develop throughout every season.
Time is essential in the case of having fun with the components to the fullest in regard to vitamins and style. I wish to encourage folks to grasp the components when cooking. To be able to do that, it’s necessary to know the lifecycle of every product. I perceive that not everybody can develop their very own components. Nevertheless, I wish to advocate attempting to plant one or two seeds to develop at dwelling. It may be a pepper or perhaps a leafy inexperienced. By seeing and experiencing the lifecycle of that ingredient, you’re capable of perceive it extra.
Now greater than ever, the world wants to scale back meat consumption to sort out local weather change. What recommendation are you able to give to make the transition in the direction of a flexitarian weight-reduction plan simpler?
Crucial factor is to seek out steadiness. To do that, understanding what you eat is essential. Changing into one together with your components allows you to totally use every little thing, from the foundation to the stem and leaves. Figuring out what seasoning and condiments we have to steadiness them can be necessary. In Korea, we use fermented and aged sauces, resembling doenjang (bean paste) and ganjang (soy sauce). This helps to steadiness every dish. By understanding what you’re cooking with, you can too perceive every product’s power and create a constructive cycle that promotes life and is sustainable. For protein, I exploit a variety of shiitake mushrooms, radish and lotus roots.
If everybody could make small adjustments, it will likely be higher for the world and the universe will obtain a extra harmonious steadiness.
By means of meals, you join with folks and share Buddhist teachings. How has that impacted folks visiting the temple?
We’ve a temple-stay programme at Baekyang, so folks can come and expertise the lifetime of a monk. As a part of the temple keep, folks can select to do a vegan cooking class the place I speak about meals and Buddhist teachings. There’s a steady curiosity within the temple keep and we all the time have folks wanting to return. It’s nice that individuals present an curiosity in visiting us and that I can join with them via meals.
How has temple meals developed over time?
For me, not a lot has modified. I nonetheless have the identical coronary heart as I did once I first joined the temple. I give attention to my follow and I nonetheless cook dinner among the identical dishes I made as a younger monk. After all, my kitchen has modified and among the components have modified additionally, nevertheless my coronary heart is identical. My ideas on having to know your components whenever you cook dinner have been with me all through the years. Respecting all types of life, being conscious of worldwide warming and striving to be environmentally pleasant are ideas embedded in my on a regular basis follow.
“We’ve a temple-stay programme at Baekyang, so folks can come and expertise the lifetime of a monk”
What have you ever realized because you started your journey with meals?
To me, cooking isn’t about being fancy or displaying off troublesome expertise, however changing into one with the components. Once I’m cooking, I consider the components as in the event that they’re part of me. When utilizing water and hearth to cook dinner greens, I really feel like we grow to be one. It’s extra necessary to create concord than studying technical expertise. The guts and soul put into the meals will probably be obtained by the individuals who eat it and create a constructive affect.
My dad and mom taught me to be frugal from a really younger age. I realized to not generate leftover meals and take excellent care of on a regular basis issues, and in addition to be reasonable with all sources and restrain myself from utilizing an excessive amount of.
After I grew to become a monk, my upbringing was useful, as monks are capable of practise because of donations. Because it’s by the grace of the donations that we’re capable of proceed our follow, it’s necessary to be restrained and recognize how valuable every little thing is, together with meals.
That is additionally part of Buddha’s teachings from 2,600 years in the past. If we honour life, we must always not let even one grain of rice go to waste. All components have life and we should respect this. For this reason we solely take as a lot meals as we want and eat every little thing, together with the water that cleans the bowl on the monastery.
We will all attempt to use components wholly. For instance, roots and difficult leaves can be utilized to make broths. I additionally attempt to eat greens and fruits with the pores and skin on. When cooking, attempt to bear in mind how the components got here from the greatness of nature and in addition the farmers’ efforts.
Temple meals is a philosophy greater than a set of recipes. How can it’s utilized to different areas of life?
Not lengthy after I joined the monastery, I made noodles for the opposite monks. Once they advised me they loved my meals, I felt pleasure and wished to proceed cooking. I view temple delicacies as a part of my follow and I imagine it’s the hyperlink that connects bodily and psychological power for practising monks. So, I proceed to give attention to making meals that may assist monks of their follow.
What’s subsequent on your journey as a chef ?
As a monk, I’m all the time practising asceticism. I feel practising is a crucial a part of the journey to seek out myself. I’ve a hope that we will dwell a life that honours and respects nature and our surroundings, promotes a sustainable way of life and has a constructive impact on local weather change and saves lives. To be able to do that, I would like to vary. Small actions begin from myself and I hope I’ll have the ability to share this with extra folks world wide, together with the fantastic cooks within the Asia’s 50 Finest group.