How to Cook Your Life [2007]

What does Zen Buddhism have to do with food?  A lot more than you might think.

This documentary from writer/director Doris Dorrie regales us with the personality and philosophy of zen master chef (also called a tenzo) Edward Espe Brown of the Tassajara center in San Francisco.  I had previously heard of the Tassajara bread book and the Tassajara cookbook, but had not realized that these came from a zen meditation center!  When I first saw the trailer for this film at the IFC Center, I was thrilled – when I got to see a screener of the film some time ago, I was utterly captivated.

HTCYL4.jpgI’ve always believed that there should be a religion based solely on food.  I think that Edward Espe Brown has gotten as close to that goal as anyone else ever has.  He is a fascinating character; a calm and present zen master who utterly lacks patience, and becomes overwhelmed by emotion!  I almost found myself comparing him to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, who would be completely rational one minute, then be getting jiggy with his Pon Far the next minute.  You can easily see that Brown is filled with passion for food – the film goes from cooking class to lecture to dinner table and back again, and every scene is a tale or a tantrum from Mr. Brown.


In between each narrative section of the film, there is a gorgeous shot of a foodstuff that represents the subject matter of that section.  It’s a great segue technique… I almost found myself drooling a couple times while watching the food and the preparation.  There’s really not much more to say – the film is essentially just a character study of the chef, with only fleeting appearances by students and other members of the zen cooking staff.  But I highly recommend the film, whether you’re interested in the study of zen, or interesting characters, or food and cooking, or all of the above.  The film itself is really a meditation on life and being, as enabled by the literally creative process of cooking and eating.  It’ll be playing at the IFC Center for the next two weeks, catch it while you can!

[Where: 323 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10014]

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