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Culinary Cinema: Soul Food
by Mary Nyiri

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.