Foodie Movie: How to Cook Your Life

I watched the movie “How to Cook Your Life” on Netflix recently and really enjoyed the philosophy shared by the film’s subject, Edward Espe Brown. Brown is a Zen teacher and, according to Wikipedia, he is one of the founders of Greens restaurant, a critically acclaimed vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. Brown was once the cook at the Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California.

Edward Espe Brown

Edward Espe Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the quotes Brown shared in the film….

  • “When you are cooking you’re not just working on food, you are working on yourself.”
  • “Study food – study cooking, happiness and joy. Study what it is you want in your life.”
  • “We are cooking the food but in practice the food is cooking us.”
  • “Handle the ingredients, pots and tools as you would your own eyes.”
  • “When you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. A lot of time we have stuff on our minds. Take care of the activity.”
  • “Cooking brings your hands nourishment because your hands get to be hands instead of playing around with your iPod or computer. They get to do something instead of sitting around all day while you’re entertaining yourself with your iPod and your internet and all of the other things we do. Our hands don’t get to do much any more.”
  • “We will pay a lot of money not to cook. To avoid “(in a scared voice) Ack! A potato!” And we get upset because we can’t make the food taste like the fast food. Our taste buds have been changed.”
  • “It’s not just biscuits (that we try to replicate at home). We try to replicate (the lives and people) we see on TV or in magazines. We try to make ourselves into what we see as ideal.”

What Does It Mean?

It might be easy in our American black/white worldview to dismiss some of the things that Edward Espe Brown says as muddled or hokey or too “hippie.” Maybe they don’t align with the things you were told when you were small. But I think there is a lot of wisdom in his words if you open your mind.

As I was blanching greens today in class, I thought about caring for those delicate, cooked leaves as if they were my own eyes. Cooked collard green leaves are very delicate and soft. They can tear very easily. But I put aside distractions and focused on the food. We were “only” blanching greens, but by caring for the greens and putting our full attention to them, we made them into something beyond ordinary. Chef Shahnaz told us that she spent a lot of time cooking greens at the Kushi institute, because it takes a long time to master the seemingly simple ways of preparing them well.

Below: Blanched greens I cooked with some teammates in class on Thursday. At bottom is a delicious dressing made in the VitaMix and at the top is a braised cabbage we cooked with cumin. Simple and delicious.