After a few minutes of suspended time, the slender silhouette of a nun emerges from the crack in a wooden door. The woman, with a shaved head, dressed only in a long gray dress with kimono-like sleeves, moves so gracefully towards the back of the room that she gives the impression of floating. In front of about thirty diners gathered around two large banquet tables, the nun showed a gentle look and an enveloping smile.
She greets her hosts with a respectful nod and speaks in Korean, an interpreter translating her words into English: “My name is Jeong Kwan. I chose to live far from the world in the hermitage Chunjinam in the Baegyangsa Temple in South Korea. For fifty years I have observed the rituals of my religion, Buddhism. My days are marked by quiet meditation and cooking – which I use as a tool to meet others. While studying, I have gained a lot of experience in cooking and seasoning food to make it good for the body. Tonight I hope I can share this with you… »
As soon as she had finished her sentence, half a dozen delicate little hands came to serve the first of eight dishes the nun had prepared: an assortment of seaweed and potato dumplings. These feathery little fries, coated in a thin sticky rice breading, are a typical side dish for the Korean Buddhist monks. They are carefully arranged in bowls with swaying curves, balanced on three legs that undulate like insect legs. The different bowls are called “Dark”, “Walking”, “Fluid” or even “Dreamer”. The French artist Etienne Bailleul sculpted them especially for the occasion in reclaimed walnut wood.
“I only use the ingredients that nature gives me, Jeong Kwan continues that the Netflix series The chef’s table made known all over the world. Before you start eating, I would like to invite you to meditate for a moment in gratitude. Think of this food as a medicine that nature offers to your body… » In the kitchen that day, the Buddhist chef is accompanied by six other Korean chefs who, at her invitation, out of friendship, willingly left their stoves to come and lend her a hand – as simple clerks.
“From her I learned very subtle gestures: the way you grab a vegetable, more or less forcefully, more or less tenderly. » Esu Lee, independent chef
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