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The Master of Temple Cuisine - Jeong Kwan

South Korean monk Jeong Kwan is the 2022 recipient of the prestigious Icon Award – Asia 2022. Voted for by the 300-plus members of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Academy, the Icon Award honours culinary figures who have inspired others with their skills and positive contributions.


South Korean Buddhist Nun  - Winner of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Icon Award 2022
New York Times described Kwan’s dishes as “The most exquisite food in the world” and dubbed her the “Philosopher Chef”.

The Philosopher Chef

The philosophical approach to temple cuisine cooking has gripped the culinary world when the Zen Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan from South Korea is honored with the Icon Award Asia 2022, where the jury panel, consisting of 300-plus voting members from the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, has presented the trophy to recognize her mindful temple-cooking style and artisanal techniques that calm the mind of diners.


Despite the fact that she was neither a formally-trained chef nor a restaurateur, Kwan developed a strong enthusiasm for cooking from an early age. At age 17, when Kwan’s mother died, she decided to become a nun at Baegyangsa Temple where she began to make temple food for her fellow nuns and monks, as well as for occasional visitors during their temple stay. Other than that, Kwan teaches at Jeonju University’s College of Culture and Tourism, humbly sharing her food philosophy with aspiring cooks.


Kwan’s culinary art began to garner the world’s attention when Eric Ripert, the famous French chef-cum-Buddhist practitioner from Manhattan’s three-starred Michelin restaurant Le Bernardin introduced her to the fine-dining world. Years back, Ripert went to Baegyangsa Temple for temple food studies, where he was greatly inspired by Kwan’s enchanting dishes. In 2015, he went on to invite Kwan to New York to prepare a temple-style luncheon for his special guests. After that, her story was covered in the New York Times, and on the Netflix series “Chef’s Table”.


Growing up on a farm when she was a kid and now living in Baekyangsa Temple located in Naijangsan National Park, Kwan has been living and working with Nature and developed a strong sense of respect for seasonal produce.
Baekyangsa Temple in the Naijangsan National Park, Korea

Temple Cuisine - Food as Meditation

Temple food is prepared without five pungent spices: garlic, onions, scallions, chives and leeks, which are said to hinder spiritual practices. Based on the belief that no life should be sacrificed for one’s own survival, no meat, fish or shellfish are used.


According to Kwan, every step of temple cuisine, from food planting to cooking, is a meditation. During food preparation, she always feels grateful to everything, and expresses gratitude to farmers, sunlight, the earth and other nidānas (causes and conditions) wholeheartedly. From the story of the vegetable garden, cooking to dining, everyone can experience the life cycle of food, gain insights into the preciousness of food and taste their natural flavor. This is a way to restore their peace of mind.


According to Kwan, every step of temple cuisine, from food planting to cooking, is a meditation. During food preparation, she always feels grateful to everything, and expresses gratitude to farmers, sunlight, the earth and other nidānas (causes and conditions) wholeheartedly.
“Temple food keeps a person’s mind calm and static.”

Be Respectful of Ingredients

Growing up on a farm when she was a kid and now living in Baekyangsa Temple located in Naijangsan National Park, Kwan has been living and working with Nature and developed a strong sense of respect for seasonal produce. The connection between Kwan and produce is a cornerstone of her temple cuisine. By applying principles of meditative mindfulness during the growing process, Kwan sends positive thoughts to the plants, and in turn to the beings that the plants will feed. It’s a holistic process that continues as the food is cooked and then consumed.


Most of the ingredients of Kwan are grown by herself in the garden next to the temple or collected in the nearby mountains. These seemingly ordinary herbs, wild vegetables, fruits and fl owers grow deep in the mountains, are the gifts from Nature.


Practicing farming every morning all year round, Kwan believes that it is important to understand the unique nature of the ingredients and choose what is in season are very important before deciding on the cooking method. Throughout spring and summer, she soft boils leafy vegetables or fruits and seasons them with the right choice of sauce. During wintertime, non-seasonal ingredients are air-dried for future consumption.


Jeong Kwan doesn’t tend her farm which grows wild without pesticides and blends seamlessly into the surrounding forest. She believes that the air, water and sunlight will take care of it. Sometimes animals will take vegetables and insects will chew holes in leaves. But this is how she shares, harmoniously, with Nature.


From her perspective, every part of the ingredients is worth eating. The edible mushroom stems can be sun-dried and ground for food seasoning. She also ferments the leftovers for the next season. It is a way to enjoy the full life and fl avor of a plant throughout the year.


“The heart and soul put into the food will be received by the people who eat it and create a positive and sustainable cycle.”


Save the Food

When Kwan was teaching cookery at the university, she found that students had thrown away a lot of leftovers when they cooked. In order to underscore the importance of paying respect to food, Kwan advised them to make dishes by using the food scraps in the trash. They felt odd and queried why the “garbage” should be used as ingredients.


“The simple seasonings will transform simple vegetables into delicate, impeccably crafted dishes.”

Baekyangsa Temple stay with a Cooking Class with Jeong Kwan the Buddhist temple monk from Netflix Chefs table
Experience Korean traditional culture at Baekyangsa Temple's temple stay. Cook temple food with Jeong-Kwan and learn its beauty and taste. This 1-night, 2-day weekend program is a unique opportunity.

Natural Seasonings

Kwan’s temple cuisine is a continuation of using traditional vegetarian cooking methods, primarily boiling, steaming and soft-boiling. The food presentation is all about simplicity, with an emphasis on mild and light flavor.


Excluding meat, seafood and five pungent spices from Buddhist vegetarian recipes, Kwan never uses prepared seasonings.


Home-made seasonings like soybean paste, soy sauce, turmeric, pepper, dried chili, mushroom powder, kelp powder, perilla seed powder obtained through the process of fermentation or dehydration are always used in Kwan’s dishes. Sometimes, Kwan adds sesame seeds, sesame powder or sesame paste with soft-boiled vegetables to enhance the fl avor of the organic produce, or simply sweetens the dishes with rice syrup and sansho pepper.


The simple seasonings will transform simple vegetables into delicate, impeccably crafted dishes.
“Let Nature Do Its Thing !”

Baekyangsa Temple Stay

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Photo credit: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants


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