“I am a nun, I am not a cook, and I am here to communicate with you through food.” And boy does he get it. The Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan, has traveled from the Baekyangsa temple in Korea to Madrid, the city she considers “the center of the world’s gastronomy”, to tell, in simple words and with metaphors of nature, the beginning and the end of nutrition: “The virtuous circle that feeds body, mind and spirit, it is very important what we eat and how we eat it, because it affects our mind,” says Luna, the interpreter of the Korean Cultural Center, who does not It has taken off a minute since he landed in Madrid last Saturday. Kwan is the final bite -and the most exquisite- of the program that has starred in the Republic of Korea, a guest country at the Veranos de la Villa festival, in collaboration with the Federation of Cooks and Confectioners of Spain -FACYRE-.
His schedule started early Sunday at the popular Mercado de las Maravillas in Cuatro Caminos. After a 16-hour drive from Seoul airport, stopping in Frankfurt, Kwan insisted on going in person to meet and taste the local produce. And she did not go unnoticed, clad in her gray linen habit and stopping at the most colorful stalls to celebrate with a bow and a huge smile, the variety of canned olives or tomatoes “full of flavor and beautiful color”, or the small and bright green pumpkin from the Korean vegetable stand, which he wanted to bring to tastefully decorate the table he has been sharing these days with local cooks and also with specialized journalists.
Kwan chose seasonal vegetables to adapt his preparations based on fermentation, a simple and foundational technique of Korean cuisine, which he considers “preventive medicine in these times of health crisis, because it raises the defenses.” This Thursday, the doors of the Korean Cultural Center in Madrid open for a small group of lucky people who managed to win one of the 30 free places for their experiential workshop “Where does this food come from?”
Kwan’s philosophy is simple, but difficult to assimilate in the West where animal protein is worshiped and additives and pre-cooked food reign, “because we no longer have time for anything,” he laments. “What I eat is what I am, you see in my face, it is my energy, I am myself. When I take care of myself, I am taking care of the world ”, she comments, while gently massaging the cabbage leaves, beets and peppers with only her fingers, which she has previously shredded to prepare before a public absorbed by her presence, the recipe of Kimchi in his particular style of “temple kitchen”. It is not a kimchi to use that of this ascetic who was reborn with the name of Jeong Kwan, when at the age of 17 she decided to embark on the path of enlightenment: “There are five foods that we do not consume in the temple, because they fill the temple with heat. body ”, she explains, and with her small hands she lists them like a teacher at the blackboard: onion, garlic, leek or chives”. “It does not mean that they are bad” she clarifies “but for a nun who dedicates her day to meditation, it is too much energy that can distract the mind. I recommend taking them in moderation ”. What Jeong Kwan’s cleansing “and medicinal” kimchi does have is a soy sauce with more than ten years of fermentation and also bokbuja syrup (a variety of raspberry endemic to Korea), barley porridge and canned ginger, ingredients which he grows in his own garden and which he has brought directly from his pantry in Korea to combine with the local produce.
The menu that Kwon shares in this unique visit to Spain and that will be enjoyed on the 26th is inspired by the food he prepared for his father when he rebuked him worried because he had stopped consuming meat: In addition to the Kimchi, a wrapped rice and scented in lotus leaf, “to greet the wind” and Seta pyogo (Shitake) stewed with malt syrup, the meditation food of the ascetics. Not only did his father return home calm, but he applauded the intense flavor and energy of this plant-based diet.
Chefs and journalists have insisted on asking him about the “weight” of fame after his appearance in the Netflix series ‘Chef’s Table’, which has brought hundreds of chefs and apprentices from around the world on a pilgrimage to his kitchens. Kwan responds impassively that far from ego and greed, thanks to that he has managed to communicate and share with the world his temple kitchen, which is meditation and universal consciousness to propose “a united world through a healthy and happy kitchen, spiritual energy that feeds the body and calms the mind ”.