The Zen Art of Cooking

Every season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table is a true masterpiece of visual storytelling. It is like Christmas in our house (OK, it’s more like Christmas for me but it seems that we both tend to enjoy carefully crafted stories). Last week David Gelb’s mesmerising documentary series Chef’s Table returned to Netflix for Season 3, and since all the previous seasons were outstanding and astonishing in their own way, being a one-of-a-kind meditation on creativity, in exploring the identity and artistic process of each chef, the series transcends the genre of the cooking show.

Moved by previous seasons and incredible personalities of chefs like Massimo Bottura, Francis Mallman, Magnus Nilsson and Dominique Crenn, I personally believe that our conception of food is deeply rooted in identity; this is what drives much of its cultural hype. And in Chef’s Table, the influence of personal history is overwhelming. That said, after we watched the first episode of this season focused on Jeong Kwan, the Buddhist monk, who prepares vegan temple food from scratch, I felt like "OK, that’s it. Season is done. What else can be more exciting and yet so simple, nonetheless, so moving?” And I was right, it was of all the episodes, the most touching and stunning. Paradoxically, though, if it was supposed to be centred on food, this episode was not about food at all.


[Jeff Gordinier] We’re at the time now when restaurants have their Instagram accounts. They have Facebook. They have Twitter. The chefs are promoting themselves. The chefs have cookbooks.The chefs have celebrity TV shows. We live in a culture that wants to worship these chefs, and that would run counter to everything that Jeong Kwan stands for. If people take away, like, “oh, Jeong Kwan is a new star chef,” that’s the wrong lesson. This is not ego food.

[Eric Ripert] Very often, in the restaurant community, we are tempted to cook with the ego. We are distracted by the stars and by the rewards, and by, “Are we going to get the ratings?” and so on. In temple food, it’s not about competing with another monastery. There’s no such a thing as, “Okay, let’s have a competition of the best soup today, and let’s have all the nuns coming together, and we have a judge, and you have a winner.” It’s not about that at all. Jeong Kwan has no ego.

[Jeong Kwan] Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from the fountain, creativity springs from every moment. You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind. This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of. That is my belief.


I think I woke up the next morning being more buddhist than I was the day before.
A great article on Jeaong Kwan’s food by Jeff Gordinier for

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