South Korean monk earns global accolade for her cuisine
Jeong Kwan, a South Korean monk who grew up on a farm, ran away from home at 17 and joined a monastery at 19, has won an Icon Award as part of this year’s edition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards program.
Jeong Kwan's vegan cuisine caught the world’s attention after a French chef – and fellow Buddhist – Eric Ripert of New York's Le Bernardin eatery visited the 7th Century Baekyangsa Temple where she lives. Ripert invited her to New York to prepare a meal for a group of invited guests, a dinner the New York Times described as "the most exquisite food in the world". Later, she starred in a 2017 episode of Netflix's Emmy Award-winning Chef's Table series.
Now 65, Jeong Kwan attributes her love of vegetables to her rural roots. Growing up, she developed a respect for seasonal produce and at the monastery, she learned centuries-old cooking techniques, passed on by elders.
A monk since her teens, Jeong Kwan has drawn international acclaim for her traditional vegan cuisine
From a modest kitchen in the Baekyangsa Temple, Jeong Kwan continues to cook at the hermitage she shares with her fellow nuns and attracts a growing number of devotees to Baekyangsa Temple. She teaches visitors Buddhist principles that underpin authentic temple food, cooking for guests and fellow nuns.
Her recipes use tomatoes, plums, aubergines, pumpkin, tofu, oranges, basil, chilli pepper, and other vegetables, which she grows herself.
William Drew, director of content at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants says the judges found Jeong Kwan's dishes “impeccably crafted,” reflecting her “innate creativity, technical skills, and deep respect for seasonal ingredients”.
"A guardian of Korean temple cuisine, Jeong Kwan is confirming her status as an international culinary icon thanks to her refined mastery of flavours and spiritual approach to cooking," he said.
“Although she has never worked in or owned a restaurant, Jeong Kwan's innovative cuisine places her in the vanguard of visionary chefs.”
Jeong Kwan said she was extremely honoured to receive the 2022 Icon Award. “I am aware of the difficulties caused by the global pandemic and hope that the situation will improve so we can meet again to share food and positive energy."
The Korean chef’s achievement will be highlighted during the online ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2022 on March 29, which will be broadcast to a global audience via Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Facebook and the 50 Best Restaurants TV YouTube channels.