A 'How To' guide for food and life

By SEAN AXMAKER, Seattle PI, Nov 29, 2007

Seattle, WA (USA) -- "Working on food is also working on yourself," says chef, cookbook author, and Zen priest Edward Espe Brown. He's talking to German director Doris Dorrie, delivering his recipe for a simpler, healthier life.

In addition to nutrition and gastronomical delight, food and cooking provides Brown with a wellspring of metaphors for living itself. Brown dips into the well often, but the soft-spoken cook and Buddhist teacher has a humility that makes them less pronouncements than personal proverbs confirmed through practice.

His is not a bad recipe for living. There is both a sense of calm and humble creation in the scenes of kneading dough and slicing vegetables.

The film tends to lose focus when Dorrie wanders off to visit organic farmers, homeless Dumpster divers and urban foragers in a diffuse commentary on Western affluence and waste. At the same time, she isn't always sure what to make of the Buddhist rituals. When her camera finds Brown fidgeting and fussing with his implements during one pre-meal chant, she seems to identify more with his distraction than his spiritual teachings.

But moments like these also ground Brown in the material world. Frank about his own shortcomings ("I suppose I could use more patience," he confesses with a laugh, followed by a scene cursing the dribble spout on a bottle of oil), he's as human as the rest of us.

That's what makes him such a persuasive spokesman for personal peace and better living through food preparation, even if "How To Cook Your Life" is more of a snack than a meal: Zen and the art of culinary simplicity as a temporary spiritual retreat.

DIRECTOR: Doris Dorrie
CAST: Edward Espe Brown
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for brief strong language
WHERE: Metro