Temple Food and Insights from the World’s Greatest Chefs

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

I have a difficult time watching the same movie twice. It feels like a waste of time. But there are a few select cinematic presentations that capture my heart. The first one was Dirty Dancing. I probably watched it everyday after school in 4th grade with my friends. We practiced ‘the lift’ in the neighbor’s pool each summer. I recently watched it again two times in a row. I never get tired of that one.


There is a series on Netflix called, Chef’s Table. I have watched each episode from all the seasons countless times. I watch, I cry, I get inspired. I am moved by the precision of mastery. I exhale mesmerized by the painful beauty of the toil of perfection. These chefs engage all of their senses to create masterpieces that I only dream of tasting.


When I watched Francis Mallmann from Patagonia, Argentina I became enthralled in his romantic relationship to fire and what it does to food. He’s pares down his productions to pit fires and open flames to alchemize the simplest of foods into pure pleasure. The scene where he is on the plane and he says that he has to keep going, keep experiences new things to stay inspired. That’s me, too. His final quote leave me speechless every time. “In order to grow and to improve you have to be there a bit at the edge of uncertainty.” And then he reads aloud the last two lines from The Call of the Wild. “There’s a whisper on the night-wind. There’s a star agleam to guide us. And the Wild is calling, calling…let us go.”


Francis Mallmann cooking fresh fish on a boat.


Francis Mallmann’s pit roasted pumpkin with greens and goat cheese.


One of my favorites is Magnus Nilsson. I bought his beautiful hardbound book, Fäviken, named after his restaurant. He makes art on a plate delicately garnished with lichen. Lichen! I studied lichen in college. I took two classes on it and it fascinated me. As an herbalist, I am seduced by its medicinal qualities. To involve an organism that is so taken for granted, growing on tombstones and eating away at rock for hundreds of years – a symbiotic relationship of a fungus and a cyanobacteria – and celebrated in a gourmet meal. YES. In Sweden he has a root cellar behind his restaurant. The rustic shelves and dirt floors are lined with ferments resembling a mad scientist’s lab filled with jars of preserved floating experiments. I dream of a cellar like this. A special place to keep ferments happy. This episode inspired my recipe for my lacto-fermented whole carrots with tops which you can follow in the book Find Your True Fork, where I’m featured as the fermentation expert, which releases in July 2017.


Nordic chef, Magnus Nilsson.


Blade of beef with crispy reindeer lichen.


The root cellar behind Fäviken, the restaurant.


Magnus Milsson’s beautiful hardbound book, Fäviken. Click here to purchase.

Virgilio Martinez from Peru is so inspired by his homeland that he creates each of his meals as mini ecosystems based on the altitude from where the plants/animals/fungi are found. He works with his sister who catalogs and researches the ethnobotany of these plants.


Virgilio Martinez prepping a plate.


Green algae balls from the mountain lakes of Peru.


Virgilio Martinez uses all kinds of traditional corn

In season four, they follow a Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan, who has risen to the ranks of Michelin star chefs by preparing vegan temple food for her fellow monks. She gardens, meditates, and cooks. She pulls kimchi out of crocks buried in the ground to add to the meal. She ferments her own soy sauce. She has famous chefs falling to their knees in adoration at what happens in their mouths and subsequently their brains when they eat her food.


Jeong Kwan serving (delicious) food.


Her chef-worthy plating skills rival top rated chefs worldwide.


She talks about how temple food keeps the body in a calm and focused state prime for reaching enlightenment through meditation. She doesn’t use garlic, scallions, onions, or leeks because they are too stimulating for the mind and makes it more difficult to meditate. She says that is one of the biggest differences between temple food and laypeople food.


Temple food. I’m utterly floored by this concept. I grew up Southern Baptist where we are taught that the body is a temple. And that’s when it struck me. When you are on a healing diet, you aren’t necessarily eating food that everyone else eats. You are eating temple food. Food that feeds and nourishes the temple that is your body. Food as medicine in its purist form. Food that makes you stronger, keeps you calm, wards off sickness, clears the body of wastes, and makes you peaceful. I feel the truth of this message in my core.


This is the essence of the work I do – I teach this to my clients by recommending a healing diet that is easy to digest and helps remove toxins.


I am inspired to plant a garden this year. I want to create the most healing, gut-rebuilding, temple food recipes I can muster. I know what it feels like to be clear and strong. I don’t feel that way right now. I feel good, but since moving back to the South, I feel as though I have succumbed to the bad habits of my region. I spent a year experimenting with gluten after 14 years without it and I know (again) that it is not for me.  


It threw my body for a loop. I started drinking smoothies at the local juice shop down the street and because they are paying more attention to flavor than health, I was drinking sugar bombs that has made me slightly insulin resistant.


I have some things to sort out in my body this year. I have been getting mentally and emotionally ready. I try to eat how I know I need to eat and then I break at the need for convenience and socializing. I am trying to figure out why it feels harder than it did before. I eat really healthy, don’t get me wrong, but I am eating an imbalanced diet too high in honey, dates, chocolate, and meat.


I search for why it isn’t easy like it was before and I realize the current challenge has so much to do with the fact that I’m not in a state of panic about my health anymore. I was willing to do anything in the past to get away from the terror of getting sicker. The panic attacks were a real motivator for change. I am happier than I’ve ever been. I’m more relaxed and unshakable. The wrong foods used to really throw me off. I would get reactive, anxious, and stressed out about it. It no longer happens like that.


Now that my mental and emotional state are more balanced I am seeking a new motivation – one from a positive place. One that isn’t based on moving away from pain. Instead, I’m moving towards pleasure. This is a lesson in self worth. What does it take on a daily basis for me to feel happy and want to take in foods that aren’t so stimulating? What motivates me now to eat the foods that keep me calm and my body as healthy as it possibly can be? Why do I listen to the doubts and excuses that creep in?


It brings me to addiction. That feeling of the floor falling out from under me gets stronger and stronger the more relaxed and easy my life gets. I’ve worked diligently to get here. I have encountered immense struggles to raise myself up from the depths of suffering. I spent so much of my life in pain – both emotional and physical – that I get a little uneasy when there are no bumps in the road. I actually crave the feeling of tenseness and friction that addictive substances and stimulants have on my body.


I did my genetic testing recently and discovered that I have a gene snp for dopamine issues. The ‘need’ for chocolate, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, drugs, anything – that external stimulant to help trigger a dopamine response so my central nervous system can relax is akin to a real physiological issue. I have some healing to do on this level. And I’m a little scared about it.


What is life without these stimulants? Can I function? Will I sleep a lot while my brain heals? Should I check into a healing retreat center so they can serve me the healthiest foods and give me the moral support to make it over the many humps? What will happen to my business if I can’t focus?


Regardless of these doubts, I’m confident in my abilities to achieve this.


And through watching the Chef’s Table I realize what I’m missing. I’m missing my relationship with nature. With plants and animals. With quiet. With humans who care deeply about our planet and the symbiotic relationship with life. I think we are a bit more on the parasitic side right now. That’s what fermentation has taught me. That a symbiotic relationship benefits all involved. The health crisis that is happening in our world from obesity to cancer, diabetes to heart disease, is proof enough that we are not benefiting from the relationships we are forging (forcing) with nature.

There’s where my new health journey begins. Symbiosis. Planting. Growing. Appreciating. Preparing. Eating. The Temple Food. That is my next mission. Will you join me? Share your feedback and thoughts in the comments below.