July 2, 2022
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(CNN) — It’s a busy Saturday morning for Jeong Kwan, a South Korean Buddhist monk.

After her early morning meditation apply and breakfast, she tends to her backyard inside Baekyangsa, a temple on the scenic Naejangsan Nationwide Park, south of Seoul.

The air is stuffed with the scent of blooming coriander flowers. A wild deer nibbles on the leaves within the backyard.

The eggplants and inexperienced peppers are rising. The cabbages she planted within the winter are plump and able to be harvested.

“It’s lovely as a result of it has a lot of power — it has grown by means of the chilly winter,” the monk tells CNN Journey by means of a translator, pulling her palms aside to show the dimensions of this 12 months’s cabbages.

The unintentional star chef

Jeong Kwan devoted herself to Buddhism when she was 17 years outdated.

Courtesy Asia’s 50 Finest Eating places

Jeong Kwan — her Buddhist identify — isn’t your common monk. Her temple cooking has been endorsed by famed chef Éric Ripert of Le Bernardin in a 2015 New York Times profile written by meals journalist Jeff Gordinier. A whole episode of the favored Netflix collection, “Chef’s Desk,” was dedicated to her.
Most just lately, she was the recipient of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Icon Award in 2022. Voted for by greater than 300 members of the Award’s academy, it celebrates culinary figures who’ve influenced and impressed others positively.

But little has modified in her world.

“I’m extraordinarily honored to obtain the Icon Award… As you already know, I’m a monk, not a educated chef. It’s fantastic to listen to that folks all world wide are keen on Korean delicacies,” says Jeong Kwan.

“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.”

The chef devoted herself to Buddhism in 1974, although says she nonetheless looks like a teenager at coronary heart — even when her age and her spirituality have grown.

In contrast to many, she already had a sense of the life she needs to reside at a younger age. She was in elementary college when she instructed her father that when she grows up, she would reside alone with nature.

When Jeong Kwan was 17 years outdated, her mom handed away.

“I grieved and after 50 days I went to a temple. There, I met different monks who became my new household. I discovered enlightenment and pleasure in working towards Buddhism. I then determined that that is the place I wished to spend the remaining of my life, working towards Buddhism,” she says.

Three years into her apply, she moved to her present dwelling, Baekyangsa.

“The trail to the temple was very mild — not bumpy or steep. I felt very calm and peaceable. It was like returning to my mom’s arms,” Jeong Kwan recollects of her first stroll to Baekyangsa.

That was 45 years in the past.

What’s temple delicacies

All of Jeong Kwan’s dishes are vegan.

Courtesy Asia’s 50 Finest Eating places

In 2013, Jeong Kwan determined to open the doorways of the temple to guests so she might join with individuals who need to study Buddhism — particularly by means of its delicacies.

“Temple meals is the connection that brings bodily and psychological power collectively. It’s about maximizing the style and diet from plant-based components with restricted seasoning or added condiments,” she says.

“Temple delicacies is a component of my Buddhist apply and the journey of discovering one’s self. The individuals who cook dinner and the individuals who eat the temple meals are all on a journey to search out out ‘Who am I?’ I feel Korean temple delicacies connects folks collectively and can proceed to play that function.”

All of Jeong Kwan’s dishes are vegan and made with out garlic, onions, scallions, chives or leeks. (It’s believed that the 5 pungent components would disturb the thoughts’s peace by evoking anger and fervour.)

Her meals is made with the freshest natural components in addition to fermented sauces and dishes like bean paste and kimchi — all grown or made within the temple.

There’s no set menu — she works with no matter produce is contemporary that day so dishes differ extensively.

Jeong Kwan believes that meals might help stability components in our our bodies by restoring our moisture or decreasing our physique temperature to a harmonious state. One instance is doenjang — Korean fermented bean paste — which the monk makes use of usually to create this stability in her meals. However making doenjang is a lengthy course of.

She and the opposite temple residents start by boiling and mashing soybeans in November. Then they’re molded into meju — soybean bricks — for drying and storing. In April, salted water is added to the meju. In Might, the monks within the temple separate the salted water — which at this stage is now soy sauce — from the bean paste.

“When you come go to, you will notice the half of the temple the place we retailer all the normal components — pastes and sauces — in pots. I’ve all of them labeled so they’re very organized. It’s a very lovely place,” says Jeong Kwan, her eyes lighting up as she talks about her meals.

“This 12 months’s bean paste may be very scrumptious as a result of the climate has been excellent. It’s tremendous sunny within the daytime and nonetheless fairly chilly within the evenings.”

She has jars of soy sauces, bean pastes and picked radishes which were brewing in jars for greater than 20 years now. These are her most treasured creations within the temple.

“I’ll carry them if I’ve to maneuver to a different temple one day,” jokes Jeong Kwan.

“It’s the work of nature. It’s magical how by fermenting, you alter the power of the unique ingredient. The picked radishes not have the power of the radishes however they’ve included the power of the fermented sauces after which they harmonize our our bodies.”

Buddhism and human connections by means of meals

“For me, meals is so necessary. It might carry such a robust connection between folks,” says Jeong Kwan.

Courtesy Asia’s 50 Finest Eating places

Jeong Kwan realized she had a ardour for meals from a younger age, when she would watch her mom cook dinner.

In 1994, she determined to completely dedicate herself to temple cooking.

“For me, meals is so necessary. It might carry such a robust connection between folks,” says Jeong Kwan.

One of her most cherished recollections is a temple go to from her father.

“‘Why would you need to keep right here — you possibly can’t even eat meat right here?’” she recollects him asking.

“I made a mushroom dish for him and after he tasted it, he mentioned, ‘I’ve by no means tasted one thing so scrumptious. When you can eat one thing so tasty right here, I gained’t be nervous about you. I’m joyful so that you can keep within the temple.’”

However not all of her finest food-related recollections befell in her personal kitchen. Jeong Kwon has been capable of get pleasure from some unbelievable meals whereas touring abroad.

One time at Paris restaurant Alain Passard, the famed French chef of the identical identify cooked a vegan meal for her.

“As I used to be consuming, I felt like that is my meals. There was no barrier in meals. It is vitally comforting and I felt very at dwelling,” says the monk.

She additionally holds a particular place in her coronary heart for Le Bernardin’s Ripert.

“Chef Éric was one of the those who had actually set me free with my meals. He helped break down any ideas that folks might need had towards temple delicacies or vegan meals. He actually helped me escape of my shell,” says the monk.

To be free isn’t about “doing no matter you need,” Jeong Kwan provides.

“It’s not feeling caged by regret and guilt since you’re not following the practices you imagine. So following all of the virtues of my apply is what makes me really free,” she says.

One most important instance for her is cooking with an understanding of the pure life cycles in addition to following the Buddhist virtues and teachings.

‘Cooking is just not about being fancy’

Jeong Kwan hopes she will be able to use her newfound affect to encourage others to be extra environmentally aware.

Courtesy Asia’s 50 Finest Eating places

Jeong Kwan feels her philosophy is particularly necessary within the present world, stuffed with challenges just like the pandemic, worldwide conflicts and local weather change.

“We had pandemics and epidemics earlier than. I imagine that is all correlated to our actions going towards nature,” says the monk.

She thinks society ought to give attention to three necessary issues: to sort out local weather change, be extra environmentally pleasant and respect all lives.

“[By doing all three,] it will likely be capable of assist set us again heading in the right direction,” says Jeong Kwan.

Consuming and cooking mindfully will allow us “to do every thing we’d like spiritually and bodily” even at occasions of adversity.

She hopes that she might use her new discovered affect to unfold these necessary messages to the world.

“To me, cooking is just not about being fancy or displaying off troublesome expertise however turning into one with the components. When I’m cooking, I feel of the components as if they’re a half of me. When utilizing water and hearth to cook dinner greens, I really feel we have now turn into one.

“The center and soul put into the meals will likely be acquired by the individuals who eat it and create a optimistic and sustainable cycle,” says Jeong Kwan.

Her intention? To see others undertake a way of life that honors and respects nature and our surroundings, promotes a sustainable way of life and has a optimistic impact on local weather change and saves lives.

“In an effort to do that, I would like to vary. Small actions begin from myself and I hope I will share this with extra folks world wide, together with the fantastic chefs within the Asia 50 Finest neighborhood,” says Jeong Kwan.

Baekyangsa is a temple inside the scenic Naejangsan Nationwide Park, about a 3-hour bus experience from Seoul. There’s an entrance payment of KW3,000 (or $2.5) for daytime guests. You can even be part of one of its temple stay programs, together with the Temple Food Experience program that includes a cooking class with Jeong Kwan.

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