Chef’s Table Spotlights Jeong Kwan’s Gorgeous “Temple” Cuisine
Chef’s Table, a Netflix Original Documentary series that features behind the scenes interview with the world’s most intriguing chefs, kicked off Season 3 this past weekend with a gorgeous look into the life of South Korean nun Jeong Kwan, whose vegetarian, home-grown “Temple Cuisine” is some of the best in the world.
Eric Ripert, the Michelin-starred chef behind New York City’s Le Bernardin, once called Kwan’s cooking “a command performance”, and has played in huge role in getting Kwan’s name recognized by the international foodie elite– even going so far as to fly her out to New York City to cook for a group of jaded food critics, which is where the story begins. (Kwan lives at Baekyangsa Temple, which is located 169 miles south of Seoul. She and Ripert met when he was visiting the country to learn more about mindful buddhist practice and its intersection with food prep.)
In the course of the meal– which Jeff Gordinier described as “life-changing”– Kwan was able to prepare vegetables as simple as pickled radish and lotus flower tea with such thoughtfulness that Gordinier insisted on flying out to Korea to stay with her at the temple, as Ripert did before him. This was high praise, considering that Kwan– who is now 60-years-old– isn’t even a chef– she’s a monk who loves to garden (and she just so happens to cook).
Kwan’s feature in the first episode of the new season highlights the mounting interest that many top chefs and foodies seem to have in understanding food that is nourishing in more ways than one.
“She’s extremely compassionate,” says Ripert in the opening montage. “She’s very advanced in Buddhism, and she happens to be a great cook… Jeong Kwan is very spontaneous in her cooking. At the same time she keeps a certain tradition, but she breaks a lot of rules and that makes her very exceptional as a chef, as a cook.” Many critics, like Gordinier, agree that much of Jeong Kwan’s appeal comes through her lovely respect for nature and for celebrating the “orchestra” of ingredients that it synthesizes from “sun, water, and air”.
“You would look at these plates, and they could easily have passed for plates served at Noma, at Benu in San Francisco, at Blanca in Brooklyn,” Gordinier remarks, awestruck. “Without a link, you could’ve served them at those restaurants, and people would’ve marveled at how beautiful and delicious these dishes were…This was as good as any meal you could get from any chef on the planet.”
For a glimpse of Jeong Kwan’s gorgeous, plant-based cooking and her zen-like approaching to gardening, watch the trailer above. To learn more about Kwan and other Top Chefs featured in this season, visit the show’s page on Netflix.
Season 3 of Chef’s Table is available now for streaming.