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Over more than 30 years, Zen priest Edward Espe Brown has worked on bringing out the true spirit of each ingredient in his cooking–while working as the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, writing five cookbooks, working at Greens restaurant in San Francisco, and teaching vegetarian cooking classes.
In his work with cooking students, he is always surprised by how many people look to what results they might accomplish instead of accepting where they are. But Brown sees cooking as a way of getting out of your head and coming to your senses.
“Rather than endeavoring to produce a masterpiece,” he says, “why not cook something that’s fairly simple, that you enjoy making, and actually be present and happily engaged for a few moments of your life?”
At home in Fairfax, California, Brown finds cooking a nourishing
activity emphasizing wholehearted and sincere effort. He carefully chooses fresh, organic ingredients and enhances them with simple condiments, spices, and fresh herbs from the garden.
Brown draws on the five elements and tastes of Chinese medicine for guidance. Vegetarianism made sense in the past. But now he includes eggs, dairy, fish, and occasionally chicken in their diets, minimizing animal products and choosing foods grown and harvested in a sustainable manner.
Brown always says grace beforehand eating, giving thanks for the food, for those who prepared it, and for the offering of other life-forms. The blessing, he says, is a powerful way to renew his practice. And it’s good even “if you’re going to eat potato chips in your car,” he adds, admitting that his food choices aren’t always perfect. “There’s a saying in Zen: ‘No more worry about not being perfect.’ Even though you’re practicing and it’s ongoing and you’re developing, you’re arriving at each moment.”