How to Cook Your Life: Meditate, Bake, Repeat

“Treat your food like you would your eyesight” advises Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and cook, repeating the words of 13th-century master Dogen Kigen. Brown’s experience as the tensho (monastery cook) at California’s Tassajara Zen Mountain Center has led him to write several influential cookbooks, notably 1970’s The Tassajara Bread Book. This documentary, gorgeously filmed by German director Doris Dörrie (Men…), profiles Brown as he leads several meditation-and-cooking retreats. Though he talks about learning to follow his teacher’s instruction, “When you wash the rice, wash the rice”—finding the universal in the present moment—Dörrie can’t stay so focused. Her film staggers all over the place, flittering between Brown and extraneous knife saleswomen or obese Americans (what apparently happens when one doesn’t eat mindfully). It’s a shame she can’t stick with the wise, irritable, funny Brown. Near the end, when he tells his students how their food should be not perfect but sincere, reflecting on the beauty of a pair of battered aluminum teapots, the film, and the audience, finds its center.