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The Beginner’s Mind of a Master Cook

Squirrels illustration

Unnatural History #4 by Amy Ross

Is there something sacred about the flavor I have in mind to make my lentils or vegetables taste that way?

Cooking, for me, has always been a sensual experience. I look, smell, taste, touch. For many of us, coming to our senses is pretty much incomprehensible. Again and again, I encounter people wanting to get it right and make the food according to the recipe rather than learning to trust their instincts and their capacity to negotiate the way for themselves. “How much salt did you put in?” they ask me, without realizing that they do not know how much asparagus or tomato sauce I am putting the salt on. Ironically, I began cooking from a friend’s copy of a Zen macrobiotic cookbook by George Ohsawa. Since macrobiotics has little or nothing to do with Zen, the designation is just one of those marketing ploys designed to sell: Get this book because it’s Zen! But, though the recipes were not particularly special, it was a place to start, and most of what I was doing wasn’t in the cookbook anyway: cutting the celery stalks into commas, boomerangs, and lengthy diagonal strips; marveling at the intricate cross section of cabbage, so reminiscent of trees; and playing with colors. With a stack of small wooden bowls …

About the Author

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen priest who became famous for the Tassajara Bread Book. This piece was adapted from No Recipe:...

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