Buddhist Chef Eric Ripert Learns Korean Buddhist Cuisine
“Korean Buddhist Cuisine, Holding a Key to Human Survival”
This is an article about Eric Ripert who is a head chef of the famous restaurant
“Le Bernardin” and a Buddhist during his visits to Korean temples to learn Korean Buddhist
cuisine and Seon Buddhism in Aug. 2015.
Eric Ripert said, “Buddhist cuisine brings those who make and eat it closer to enlightenment,” and also emphasized, “The culture of Buddhist cuisine should be propagated more widely in order to pursue a more sustainable way of life.”
Eric visited Tongdo-sa Temple and learned Korean Buddhist cuisine from Master Wonsang. Even though this was their first meeting, they both had a great time making fresh ginseng and vegetable rolls together. Fresh ginseng and vegetables rolls. After peeling fresh ginseng, put seasoned vegetables on top of the fresh ginseng peels and tie it up with boiled water parsley.
At Tongdo-sa, “maji” (offering to the Buddha) and food for monks are made in a gamasot cooked over a wood fire. After the water boils, add rice and adjust the amount of water, stirring at regular intervals with a stainless steel paddle. Adjust the fire intensity as necessary. After making steamed rice, a “nurungji”(crust of overcooked rice) is frequently stuck to the bottom of the pot. It is a favorite snack for Koreans.
World renowned chef Eric Ripert, head chef of the famous restaurant “Le Bernardin” in Midtown Manhattan, visited Tongdo-sa Temple, Baekyang-sa Temple and Jingwan-sa Temple Aug. 5-11 to learn Korean Buddhist cuisine and Seon Buddhism. This article is about his experiences during that visit. “Le Bernardin,” located in Midtown Manhattan, is famous for its French style seafood dishes. Since Chef Ripert became the head chef at Le Bernardin in 1994, The New York Times has consistently given Le Bernardin four stars for the longest period of time. Since then, Eric’s fame has spread all over the world.
What does he see in the Buddhist cuisine? He says, “Buddhist cuisine is healthy because it uses organic vegetables, and a vegetarian diet doesn’t cause animals to suffer.” He also believes Buddhist cuisine brings people closer to enlightenment. In addition, Eric says, “The survival of mankind depends on developing a sustainable culture and Buddhist cuisine is a sustainable culture.” Thus, he came to Korea in the heat of summer to study Korean Buddhist cuisine.
“Chef” is not a Job but Passion and Lifestyle
Eric says, “Being a chef is not just a vocation but a passion and a lifestyle.” On this visit he met Master Jeonggwan of Cheonjin-am Hermitage in Baekyang-sa Temple for the third times. Eric had previously appeared with Master Jeonggwan on the PBS series “Avec Eric.” On that occasion he invited Master Jeonggwan to his restaurant to introduce Buddhist cuisine to key media reporters who covered food and restaurants. The reporters had lauded Buddhist cuisine and were fascinated by its diverse flavors.
Disciple not only of Buddhist Cuisine but also Buddhism
Eric said it was a great experience to work with Master Jeonggwan at Cheonjin-am for three days. They seemed to understand each other very well with little need for a translator. In spite of the summer heat, they made steamed rice with thistle and roasted agastache rice cakes with soybean paste, Eric dutifully added kindlings to the fire and operated the bellows. In addition, he shredded potatoes and agastache, working side by side with Master Jeonggwan to prepare roasted soybean pancakes. Eric also picked agastache, thistle, perilla leaves and red peppers in the kitchen garden. Eric said, “The taste of agastache is fragrant and somewhat like western anise.” He had many questions for Master Jeonggwan.
I Would Have Like Being a Monk
Master Jeonggwan has great intuition and was very open and honest. He compared Eric to the Tibetan priestess Dakini. Dakini is the goddess of the temple bell in Korea and has the role of directly passing down the self-discipline of Esoteric Buddhism and protecting devotees. It is said that Tilopa and Milarepa inherited Dakini’s esoteric methods. Legend also says that Dakinis incarnated as a human and became not only a companion on the path but also mother to a Buddha, and handed down the truth of Buddhism. Although Eric sometimes thinks he would have liked to be a Buddhist monk, he knows he cannot abandon the people he loves, his wife Sandra and a son Adrian. He said he would like to visit Korea again with his wife and son.
What is Seon Buddhism?
Eric, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism was curious about Seon Buddhism. Wherever he went, he asked the monks two questions. One was “What is Seon Buddhism?” The other had to do with killing fish. “In my job as a chef, I violate the precept of not taking a life. What should I do?” Master Jeonggwan of Cheonjin-am, Master Wonil of Baekyang-sa, Master Doun of Jingwan-sa, and Master Wonsang, Suan and Doan of Tongdo-sa Temple all answered these questions differently. However, a satisfactory answer seemed to eventually form in his mind. One master said, “It will be good for the fish if you kill it after praying for its rebirth into a better life.” Another master said, “The concept of not killing is not reserved only for fish. There are many small living things and microorganisms that we kill accidently. If this matter weighs on your mind, you should hold a “Cheondojae” (memorial ceremony) once or twice a year.”
Please Draw My Mind
Eric asked even more questions of Master Suan. He asked Master Suan, who dresses differently from other monks, “You are a monk even though you don’t dress as they do. Do you live the lifestyle of a monastic?” Master Suan answered, “Even though I don’t live exactly as a Buddhist monastic, I need at least one cell inside my body to move.” When Master Suan offered to draw Eric a picture, Eric asked Master Suan to draw a picture of his mind. Suan first drew Eric’s smiling face and painted a broad luminous blue cloud encircling his face. Eric was happy to see the color blue, his favorite color. After drawing a small alms bowl under the face, Suan said, “This alms bowl is empty. Please put your best cooking into it.”
Nurungji in the Shape of a Full Moon
The monks of Tongdo-sa showed Eric how to make “maji” (offering to the Buddha) and how they cooked over a wood fire using a gamasot (large iron pot). Three monks assisted in adding firewood and water when necessary, steaming the boiled rice and scooping the rice out. It looked like a ceremony. They first boiled water, added rice and then adjusted the water level as necessary. One monk then stirred the rice at regular intervals with a stainless steel paddle while the others tended the fire, adjusting it as necessary. After scooping the steamed rice out, one monk scooped out a large piece of nurungji (overcooked rice crust that sticks to the bottom of the pot). It was larger in diameter than a monk’s chest and in the shape of full moon, a symbol of perfect enlightenment. This pleased everyone greatly.
Different Buddhist Cuisines of Three Masters
After Eric experienced the Buddhist dishes prepared at three different temples, he knew Buddhist cuisine had infinite possibilities and could be creatively enhanced. He then categorized each temples cooking style. He defined Master Jeonggwan’s cooking as “rustic traditional,” Master Doun’s as “sophisticated traditional,” and Master Wonsang’s as “creative.” I expect that Eric, who wants to advocate Buddhist temple food as a sustainable lifestyle, will continue to inspire others, and I hope his Buddhist practice continues to mature along with his culinary artistry.
Coverage organization | Yencheon (Freelancer), Photos | Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism