Hand-picked mushrooms, preserved daikon, dried persimmon, shoyu, and time: these are only some of the ingredients the widely celebrated Buddhist monk and chef Jeong Kwan uses for her soul-nourishing creations at the Chunjinam hermitage at the Baekyangsa temple in the mountains near Gwangju.
The philosophy of Kwan’s temple cuisine is rooted in the notion of time. Blessing the world with her cooking, she draws energy from ingredients, resolves their inherent conflicts, and restores their original essence to harmonize human, animal, and plant life so “that ingredient becomes more than food, it becomes a healing.” Her recognition as a Buddhist chef stems from her utmost respect for nature, developing recipes that foster belonging and connect the mind-body and spectrum of physical and spiritual energies. For Kwan, cooking and eating are contemplative acts: meditation not only entails silence, inner focus, and prayer but may be experienced through the immersive discovery of oneself and one’s surroundings in the preparation of ingredients and dishes.
During the Biennale research trip with a group of artists in September 2019, a visit was organized to the monk’s hermitage to witness her close attention to every ingredient, every plant in her garden, and every earthenware jar in her kitchen and her refined methods of preparing, sculpting, and serving food. The time spent with her was also a testament to how much thought she devotes to the journey of cooking and its ability to convey humanity’s interdependence with ecological forces. At the time, she addressed the unifying and exploratory potential of the creative act before sharing a meal: “I apply the same criteria to the preparation of this temple food as you apply in the realization of your artistic endeavors, may the pursuits in creativity and truth flow together.”
As part of the procession, the 13th Gwangju Biennale commences with a tea ceremony by Jeong Kwan. Serving as an inspirational thinker for the Biennale, she has also provided the Korean translation of the exhibition title 集螃腦朝 葆擠,(Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning), which affirms her belief that the physical body and spiritual energy remain vibrantly connected.