I recently cooked at my Buddhist Sangha's 3-day Silent Zen Retreat. This is the fourth retreat I've cooked at since I first volunteered to give it a go. And I have to say... the food is getting better and better!
Some people have even given me the ultimate compliment (in my world)... that my food is 'as good as Stephen Galpin's'. Stephen Galpin of The Ayurvedic Kitchen is my dead set cooking hero. Not Jamie. Not Nigella. Stephen Galpin. So to have his name and mine in the same sentence... with 'as good as' in the middle is an overwhelming compliment!
Anyway, enough about me and Stephen. I'm writing this blog to answer the very common question at the end of retreats which is.... "I have the WARMTH cookbook, but my food doesn't taste like this... what is your secret? How do you make the food taste so amazing?". I used to ask Stephen the same question. Repeatedly. I thought it had something to do with salt and ginger... which is does to some extent... but now I feel like I know the true answer!!
The two secret ingredients to absolutely amazingly delicious food are....
1) TIME and
Yep, that's it. Time and attention. When you are cooking for a retreat, you are only cooking for a retreat. You're not playing on Facebook... you're not hanging out the washing... or walking the dogs... or vaccuming.. or multi-tasking (beyond the multi-tasking involved in the cooking which is more than enough!). You're just cooking. You don't have time to do anything else. Especially at a silent Zen retreat when you are the Tenzo and this is your manifestation of practice. It is a beautiful and rare thing to do this practice.. and an even more beautiful thing to eat the food created from this practice! The care and attention, the mindfulness, the love that you give to the food infuses it with a special quality... the quality of Sattva!
When you're cooking for 15-20 people, you're also dealing with reasonably large quantities of food... and it just takes longer to cook. Your porridge is on the stove for at least an hour rather than the usual 15 mins. Your onions and tomatoes are simmering for more than an hour and you might cook your chickpeas (pictured) for 3-4 hours! Your ingredients have time... lots of time... to get to know each other, to infuse into one another and to create a beautiful relationship! As Doko, my teacher, says...if you spend enough time sitting silently with someone and really seeing them, you'll eventually fall in love. I think it is the same with the ingredients in our food!
But you don't have to become a retreat cook to experience this. You can create the effect at home to some extent. On a weekend, when you have some time available and especially if you're cooking for your family or friends, see what it feels like to allow yourself several hours to prepare a meal (preferably in silence). Make it your practice, your pleasure and your joy, rather than a chore! The time you spend cooking will also increase your Agni!
If you don't know what to cook, grab your copy of our free cookbook, WARMTH from the Mudita Institute website and start with the Moroccan Puy Lentils. They are one of my favourites!
Feel the difference time and attention makes to your mind and taste the difference they make to your food.... let me know how you go!
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