Nestled within the serene confines of Naejangsan National Park lies Chunjinam hermitage, a part of Baekyangsa temple. This tranquil location, a few hours south of Seoul by bullet train, is where Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan practices her mindful cooking alongside her daily spiritual duties.

Jeong Kwan has gained international recognition for her unique approach to ‘Temple Food’ or ‘Temple Cuisine’, thanks to her appearance in season 3 of the Netflix series Chef’s Table. This style of cooking, which is entirely vegan, has seen a surge in popularity among Western travelers. In fact, Balwoo Gongyang, a part of Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, has been awarded a Michelin star since 2017, making it one of the few Michelin-starred vegan restaurants globally.

Jeong Kwan: from Soil to Soul

Jeong Kwan’s approach to cooking is deeply rooted in her connection with nature. She believes that every ingredient carries a certain truth within it, an essence that can be brought out through mindful growth and preparation. This philosophy contrasts sharply with the commercialized ‘farm to table’ or ‘locally sourced’ labels that have become marketing buzzwords in major supermarkets.

In Jeong Kwan’s kitchen, fermentation plays a significant role in creating unique flavors. We had the opportunity to taste kimchi aged for 5 years, and we learned that some clay pots contained kimchi fermenting for over 100 years! The process of fermentation is natural and somewhat uncontrolled, meaning that each batch will have its unique character.

The Art of Mindful Cooking

Jeong Kwan’s cooking style is characterized by simplicity and mindfulness. She pays close attention to the nature of each ingredient, ensuring that it stays true to its innate nature. Her cooking is not just about creating visually appealing dishes, but about preparing food in a way that can touch your heart.

The Healing Power of Food

Korean temple cuisine is made without meat, fish, dairy, garlic, or onions, ingredients believed to disturb a calm mind in Buddhist philosophy. Like in yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, certain foods are thought to balance or even heal illness and physical conditions. Jeong Kwan’s cooking goes beyond the physical, as she believes that the way food is handled affects how it impacts your body. She prefers to use her hands as much as possible, letting her heart speak through her cooking.

A Journey of Discovery

My encounter with Jeong Kwan opened my eyes to a new way of relating to food and cooking. Her philosophy of mindful cooking, her respect for nature, and her ability to create deeply nourishing meals left a lasting impression on me. If you’re curious about the potential of vegan cooking, it’s definitely time to explore temple food.

Recipe for Braised Shiitake Mushrooms by Jeong Kwan

Here is a recipe for Braised Shiitake Mushrooms (Golden Balwoo) by Jeong Kwan:


  • 12 fresh shiitake mushrooms (whole)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons perilla oil *
  • 3 tablespoons five-flavor berry syrup (omija chung) **
  • 3 tablespoons rice syrup (jo chung) *
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Pinch of sea salt


  1. Remove the mushroom stems with a knife, then gently rinse and lightly steam the mushrooms in a steamer.
  2. In a braising pan, combine water, soy sauce, and perilla oil and bring to a boil. When the braising liquid comes to a full boil, add the prepared shiitake mushrooms and braise, adjusting the heat if needed.
  3. When the liquid has reduced by about half, lower the heat to medium, then add rice syrup, five-flavor berry syrup and continue to braise for another three minutes.
  4. Continue braising/reducing on low heat, while spooning the braising liquid over the mushrooms.
  5. When the liquid in the pan has mostly reduced, leaving a nice sheen on the mushrooms and the flavors of the seasoning fully absorbed, mushrooms will have also reduced in size and are ready to be removed.
  6. Drizzle sesame oil over the mushrooms and plate.

* These ingredients can be found at Korean supermarkets. Honey (though not vegan) can substitute for rice syrup.
** The berry syrup has a sweet-tart flavor—pomegranate molasses (available at India Market) makes for a good substitute.

Please note that Jeong Kwan’s cooking philosophy involves a deep understanding of nature and time. She often uses ingredients that have been aged for years, which may not be easily replicable at home. However, this recipe should give you a taste of her unique temple cuisine.

Source: Honolulu Magazine