Cover Jeong Kwan is the 2022 recipient of the Icon Award from Asia's 50 Best (Photo: Asia's 50 Best)

The South Korean nun, who featured on one of the most memorable episodes of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, received the Icon Award from Asia’s 50 Best today

Back in 2015, the world was introduced to Jeong Kwan and the intricate, yet humble, art of Korean temple cuisine first through an extensive profile in the New York Times (where journalist Jeff Gordiner gave the nun the ‘philosopher chef’ moniker) followed by an appearance in the second season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. In the span of 50 minutes, viewers were immersed in the gentle ebbs and flows of life at Chunjinam hermitage in Jeolla province, south of South Korea, learning the ways in which Jeong Kwan and her community regard and respect ingredients and cooking.

See also: Jeong Kwan on Good Food and How to Be Happy

It only took seven years for the impact of her work to reach Asia’s 50 Best, who today (3 March) announced that Jeong Kwan would receive the Icon Award, “confirming her status as an international culinary icon”. But Jeong Kwan, who has been dedicated to her calling since joining the monastery at age 17, has long impacted those around the world—including young chefs—who have made the journey to learn more from her.

Tatler Dining has had the pleasure of meeting Jeong Kwan over the years, and below we’ve compiled some of the culinary gems she has shared with us in the past.

Respect Nature

“Food is never just food—it is made with plants using sunshine, wind, and water, which means all ingredients are a part of nature. So are humans, as we share the air and space with everyone and everything else. We must learn to respect nature as a way to reciprocate and appreciate with gratitude. It is our duty to take greed out of our intentions and take what we need and waste less.”

Your Intentions Matter

"I would not consider myself a good cook or not, but I do enjoy making a good difference to people who eat my food. Hopefully they will get something out of my good intentions. We use ingredients in cooking, and in the process of preparing food, we develop the connection with our ingredients. The consumption of food is broken down into contributing to building our minds, which in return will facilitate the growing of more ingredients. It is the basic cycle of life, intertwining between us and our food, and rather similar to ‘you are what you eat’, even in a spiritual way.”

Use Your Hands!

When Tatler Dining contributor Mina Park spent time with Jeong Kwan back in 2017, she observed that she and the monastery placed great emphasis on cooking and tasting with their bare hands. “Jeong Kwan seunim uses her hands a lot when she cooks. So does Myojin seunim, the other nun at the hermitage, who also has an ease in the kitchen,” she writes. “This is a very Korean way to cook. We use our hands to feel closer to the food. When cooking, Jeong Kwan seunim even uses her fingers to scoop up whatever is in the pot with her fingers and place a sizeable amount in her mouth to taste and check the seasoning.”

The nuns believe that all of their energy comes from their hands, and that when cooking, you pass your energy from them to the food, positive or negative—it’s what gives food flavour.

The Secret Ingredient to Happiness?

“In order to be happy in this world, one must view things in the simplest ways, or as things are without too much complications. By doing so we are sending good vibes to our surroundings, and more importantly, to our ingredients that when combined with good intentions, become good food that not only nurture others, but also to ourselves. It is as much food for the body as it is food for the mind. Everyone in the world is entitled to this.”

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.