NYT Style Magazine story by Jeff Gordinier.  (Photo by Jackie Nickerson)

 

“Korean temple cuisine is rooted in a principle that, from a chef’s perspective, doesn’t make any sense: You’re not supposed to crave it. The way you find yourself almost aching for a gooey slice of pizza? Not here. Temple cuisine is engineered to provoke a different reaction, one that goes back to the Buddhist concept of non attachment: You may relish it as you eat it, yes, but you should have no urge to stuff your face with another heap of it when you’re done.”

“Instead, temple cuisine is all about delicacy. You’re left with simultaneous feelings of fullness and lightness. You consume this food as a source of mental and physical clarity — as kindling for meditation.”

I read this article in 2015 and it gave form to ideas that have been floating around my head ever since.   My first reaction was to be a vegetarian.  (for a few months!)  But Jeong Kwan has stayed with me as an example of what an artist can and can’t do.

It brought to mind a dream I had in my 20’s.  I dreamt of making a transparent jet engine structure like a windsock, or jellyfish, or the jet engine on Wonder Women’s invisible plane.  A device, a single cell wall thick, that simply by its shape exploded with energy.  It created energy not in an active, moving part way but simply by its shape, its posture.  This idea still holds meaning for me.  All I had to do was assume the right posture and the energy of the world would come through me.

“Before long she realized that she was destined to spread the dharma by ‘‘communicating with sentient beings through the medium of food,’’ 

What is more primary and beautiful?  I came across her again in this season’s Netflix documentary series, Chef’s Table. The visuals of the temple and its surroundings confirmed and expanded all I had gleaned from the article.

What is her role?  She gives form to the food she grows, conflates the natural with the fabricated, the freshly picked with the sauces fermenting over generations, funneling the world to the table in the human scale of the senses, mind and heart.  The world she presents is concentrated, it is more understandable, literally digestible, yet remains mysterious.  Jeong Kwan represents so beautifully what an artist can do when balancing skill, will, openness and humility.