The San Francisco Zen Center is a rich part of this city’s history. With their City Center on Page at Laguna, the Green Gulch Farm Center in Marin, and the Zen Center at Tassajara, the Zen Center has helped thousands of visitors further their Zen practice. In addition to meditation, the Zen Center has a large focus on food with organic farming at Green Gulch Farm and the successful creation of Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason, which has been a premier vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco for over 25 years. Home bakers will be familiar with the Zen Center due to their publication, in 1970, of The Tassajara Bread Book.
Ed Brown, the author of that book, is the subject of a new movie, How to Cook Your Life. Brown is an ordained Zen priest who was Tenzo, or head cook, at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. But this is not your ordinary Zen priest — Brown is tempermental, goofy, and altogether human. “You get to watch me being me. Oh well.” Brown said at the San Francisco preview of the movie last night.
How to Cook Your Life is a documentary that uses Brown to explain how integral food is to the guiding principles of Zen Buddhism, and how we can all go about using these principles in the way that we approach cooking. “When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots,” Brown says. In this world of media overload and processed foods and going through the motions in the kitchen, Brown asks us to stop and pay attention to what we are doing. “People ask me, ‘How are you doing’,” said a baker in the Tassajara kitchen. “I say, ‘I’m baking.’ It’s what I’m doing and how I’m doing, through and through.”
But it’s not all roses and meditation. In the movie, we watch Brown struggle to rip into a store-bought package of cheese, raging the entire time about why a company would choose to subject consumers to such awful packaging. We watch him try to contain his temper through breathing after almost exploding at a student to be quicker about adding an ingredient to a soup. This humanness makes Brown all the more relatable, as he comes across as one of us.
This movie really resonated with me. I find peace when I am cooking, and I am able to ground myself in the kitchen more than anywhere else. And that’s what this movie is about — the essential place that the kitchen holds in many of our lives.
Here is the preview: