There's a Reddit thread submitted by user Abraburger that goes, "The new season's first episode is about Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk who cooks "temple food," very simple but elegant vegetables from her garden to visitors. It will change your life!" Abraburger is referring to Chef's Table Season 3 by American film director, David Gelb of the Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame.
We showed Araburger's comment to Jeong Kwan. "I am so pleased to hear that it changed their lives. I think that people need to have the chance to think about their lives. I don't think I changed them. They changed themselves," she says very simply, but seems to be referring to fate and providence instead.
Jeong Kwan and director David Gelb on set.
The season features six chefs – of which only Kwan isn't a chef by profession, neither does she own a restaurant. At the start of the episode, she famously said, "I am not a chef. I am a monk."
Her philosophy on food is profound, "...temple food keeps a person's mind calm and static," Kwan explains in the show. Her ingredients are simple, and profundity of flavour is realised by natural seasonings and time, in the form of fermentation.
Back to Abraburger's comment on Kwan's life-changing food, she quips, "Food is connected to life itself." And to her, it boils down to the manner one eats and cooks. "The attitude to food is the attitude to life. That's why the attitude of the chef is so important in affecting the lives of people who eat their food."
French chef Eric Ripert first invited Jeong Kwan to host a lunch at his restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City.
Kwan left home at 17 to be a Zen Buddhist nun. She's lived a hermitage life for 43 years. Her sudden shot to fame must have lured throngs of fans to take the four-hour journey from Seoul to Baekyangsa, where she resides in an ancient temple.
But Kwan's steadfast way of life is a constant, "It hasn't changed that much. Mostly, I am in the temple to practice, welcome visitors and cook."
"The number of visitors have increased after the show. Visitors come from Japan, USA, France, Germany, Netherlands etc.. I didn't met as many people from so many different countries before the show." Kwan adds that guests often drop in after having watched Chef's Table. "It is joyful to meet and talk with people from all [over] the world."
And it's especially on Vesak Day, that even more devotees make the pilgrimage to ask for blessings. While they're there, temples traditionally provide vegetarian meals.
"We celebrated Buddha's birthday on 3 May according to the lunar calendar in Korea." And at Baekyangsa, Kwan served up a century-old household meal – Bibimbap. It literally means 'mixed rice' and is conventionally a bowl of rice topped with sliced beef, vegetables, sauces, chilli pepper paste, and a running sunny side up.
What Kwan did, was to serve rice with "a lot of dried vegetables to visitors." And true to Kwan, regular dried produce didn't mean enough. "The seasonal vegetables that I picked up, have [been] dried for a year. And it means, to appreciate your health for the year." She has been meticulously preparing the Bibimbap and hoping for good health for all her guests for an entire year past.
Catch Jeong Kwan on Chef's Table Season 3, Netflix.
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