Tapestry

Stop trying to make your food perfect, says Buddhist chef

Veteran chef and Zoto Zen Buddhist priest Edward Espe Brown wants you to trust your hands more — and give your head a break.
Buddhist priest Edward Espe Brown wants our hands to guide us in the kitchen — not our heads. (Getty Images)
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Chef Edward Espe Brown wants you to give that nagging voice in your head a break.

The Soto Zen Buddhist priest and author of the Tassajara Bread Book has long said that people should be more mindful in the kitchen. That might sound straightforward, but Brown notes it's not something people are used to doing.

"We tend to park our body someplace, where it's supposed to just sit there and not do anything," Brown told Tapestry host Mary Hynes. "And so after a while, of course, the body doesn't feel alive."

Buddhist priest Edward Espe Brown is the author of the Tassajara Bread Book and more recently, No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice. (Marjorie Walter)

Feeling the right pace

When kneading dough, for example, Brown advises bakers to trust their hands to feel out the right pace and right movements.

"Your hands are moving in relationship with how the dough is unfolding beneath your hands, so your hands are receiving this information and then moving in accord with the dough," he said.

"Rather than just [saying], 'I'm going to do this to you. I'm going to do what I need to do to turn you into dough.'"

Brown admits that trying a new approach in the kitchen can be intimidating, especially since we live in a world where every meal is a feast for the eyes as much as it is for the belly.

While Brown didn't grow up with Instagram and foodie blogs, he's struggled with expectations. When he first tried baking biscuits in the 1960s, for instance, Brown realized he couldn't get them to taste perfect.

He tried multiple batches. Still, none of them compared with the delectable biscuits he remembered growing up with.

"After three or four or five times, it occurred to me, 'Right, compared to what?'" recalls Brown. "I realized I grew up with Pillsbury and Bisquick."

Edward Espe Brown in the kitchen. (Marjorie Walter)

Food can be imperfect but still delicious

That realization taught Brown to accept the biscuits for what they were - delicious.

"They were light and flaky and airy and they melted in your mouth and they had the flavour of wheat and sunlight and earth and, you know, stars and sky and it was amazing," he said.

Being mindful in the kitchen doesn't mean being worry-free. It's about how you approach those worries, says Brown. 

"Be rather gentle about how you assess [your cooking] and that you talk about what I could do differently, rather than what's wrong with me," said Brown.