Reality-based television produces all kinds of programs on cooking. Netflix has a series called Chef’s Table and two episodes were featured at the Berlinale. The two chefs are in a sense, yin and yang. In Berlin, Germany, Tim Raue is the supreme commander of his restaurant, omnipotent in food preparation. At the Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea, Jeong Kwan prepares meals for her community with serenity and a spiritual passion.
Coming from a tough childhood in Kreuzberg where he was a member of a street gang known as the “36 Boys,” Tim Raue grew up with beatings and robberies. Violence was a way to control his life. But he was smart enough to realize that crime would only lead to prison so he took the advice of a school counselor to learn a trade. Since he used to spend his pocket money in supermarkets, where he felt safe and found “an escape from the ordinary world”, he decided on cooking. Once he made up his mind, he concentrated all of his energy on getting far away from the street and ascending the ladder to become a great chef with a Michelin star. Still not satisfied, Tim toured Singapore where he became inspired to incorporate elements of Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisine into his food. This became the new cuisine for Restaurant Tim Raue. The restaurant is a part of him, “I create my own universe. If I walk in the restaurant that is the most successful moment for me because I see that I was able to control bad energy and turn it into something which is beautiful.” The energetic documentary directed by Abigail Fuller captures Tim’s ego in full view and presents some tense moments in the kitchen with his colleagues. It’s not just the spices that are hot!
In stark contrast to the way Tim approaches his cooking, Jeong Kwan believes that ego and creativity cannot go together. She began making noodles as a young girl living on a small farm with her family. But heartbroken after her mother died when Jeong was just 17, Jeong ran away from home to be a monk. She went to the Zen Buddhist Baekyangsa Temple where she was taken in. Over the years she has managed a vegetable garden where insects or wild boar can freely feast. She harvests what she needs to prepare vegetarian meals. Nature is her gardener. She ferments her own soy and chili sauces. She moves among the trees and gardens as if a part of the breeze.
Jeong does not have a restaurant. She prepares meals for nuns and visitors to the temple. Eric Ripert, a Buddhist French chef, met Jeong while traveling through Korea. He wanted to try foods from a Buddhist temple. In Jeong he found something quite extraordinary. With only nature to learn from, Jeong developed meals through pairings of herbs, fruits, vegetables and other plants in ways that master chefs around the world aspire to create. Her presentations are fit for framing. Eric invited Jeong to New York to cook for a group of journalists. Now she is featured in an American television documentary directed by David Gelb. Despite all the attention, Jeong remains humble and serene. She explains, “I make food as a meditation. I am living my life as a monk with blissful mind and freedom.” Neither words nor film can truly capture the Zen Buddhist monk called Jeong. The documentary is like an appetizer, providing a small taste of who she is. Jeong believes, “With food we can share and communicate our emotions. It’s that sharing that is really what you’re eating. There is no difference between cooking and pursuing Buddha’s way.” Catch this episode for a glimpse of a rare and beautiful person who expresses herself through her food.