With opening shots of fresh apples, pears, mushrooms, raspberries and lettuce -- not to mention the film's title spelled out on radishes -- you know immediately that Doris Dörrie
's documentary How to Cook Your Life
is going to be a cheerful one. Its subject is California's Edward Espe Brown
, Zen priest and author of the landmark 1970 "The Tassajara Bread Book."
When Brown works in the kitchen, it's an activity that nourishes both the body and the soul. As his bread book says -- it takes not only flour, water, milk and eggs to make good bread, but also care. He often quotes the teachings of his mentor, famed Suzuki Roshi, who ordained Brown to Zen priesthood. "When you wash the rice, wash the rice. When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. When you stir the soup, stir the soup."
The camera follows Brown as he conducts cooking classes at Buddhist centres in Austria and California, including Carmel Valley's Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, where Brown first began cooking in his late teens 40 years ago. His classes attract youngsters and oldsters, who come to learn a few life lessons, along with kneading or braiding dough, cutting or sautéing veggies.
Although Brown laces his words with humor, he also reveals his human side, as when he shows impatience with a bottle of oil whose top won't come off.
As well, the documentary diverges to comment on the waste of our modern world. One woman hasn't grocery shopped for two years, instead scouting the bins behind food stores for outdated "best before" packages. The film's soundman uses his boom to help her reach a fig high up on a tree.