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HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE (director/writer: Doris Dörrie; cinematographers: Jörg Jeshel/Ms. Dörrie; editor: Suzi Giebler; music: b:sides music production/Florian Riedl and Martin Kolb; cast: Edward Espe Brown; Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Franz X. Gernstl/Fidelis Mager; Roadside Attractions; 2007-USA/Germany)
“It gives one a good sense of the Zen experience in cooking.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A playful documentary written and directed by German filmmaker Doris Dörrie (“Enlightenment Guaranteed”/ “Naked”), that presents a loving homage to the art of Zen cooking. It gives one a good sense of the Zen experience in cooking, where finding joy, kindness and spirituality is part of the deal.

Zen teacher and chef Edward Espe Brown brings his good vibes and some recipes to a straightforward documentary. Brown authored the counterculture bible for bread baking The Tassajara Bread Book, back in 1967 (recently updated). The Zen chef reveres his mentor Suzuki Roshi, who died in 1971, and fills the screen with his homilies. Roshi urged his followers to be in the now when cooking or in life. In other words, “when you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots, when you stir the soup, stir the soup.”

Brown is associated with the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, where the film spends most of its time (though visiting other Buddhist centers where Brown has disciples, such as Austria’s Scheibbs Buddhist Center and the San Francisco Zen Centeri) observing his preaching, his interacting with students and the cooking staff. The lessons in dough-kneading are made more lively by wise homilies read aloud from Buddhist masters and even one from Brown’s mom. There’s good sound advise on eating organic and healthy, and the self-deprecating preacher (giving off high-pitched chuckles after every sermon) seems to be on a good trip and having fun sharing his knowledge with others. Even though he doesn’t seem to be passing on deep secrets and one could hardly learn how to cook from this film and so much of the message was clichéd (like endless talk of society’s wastefulness), it nevertheless always remains mildly entertaining and is convincing that eating right helps in gaining enlightenment.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”