Book Review by
Lin Rolens, News-Press Correspondent,
IN BUDDHA'S KITCHEN:
COOKING, BEING COOKED AND OTHER ADVENTURES IN A MEDITATION CENTER
For all the spirituality of this book, there is never a moment of sanctimony, never a moment when suffering is either deserved or the point ("Pain is given, suffering an option."): the point is compassionate action and an egoless mindfulness that allows us to "surf that moment." This may sound abstracted, but Ms. Snow's book is joyfully grounded in character and the world. She explains the difference between Zen Buddhism and the Tibetan form that draws her: "Forget the bowing, the silence, the respect. Add color, noise, and chaos. Add a kitchen full of people."
The kitchen Ms. Snow refers to is not metaphoric: after fleeing a burgeoning academic career and a divorce, she searched for a suitable job but found they "all required subservience, respectability, panty hose." Cooking had always been a pleasure, a connection to the immediate that the academy eschewed, and she became bent on becoming a chef. With no formal training and brief stint in pizza hell she found a job in a restaurant, and, as she made her way through the ranks, discovered both the general madness and the pleasure that attend cooking professionally; although rage drives many kitchens, there is no place but the moment and the wonderful physicality and sensuality of the process.
Recovering from her South Carolina Presbyterian childhood, Ms. Snow was drawn to Tibetan Buddhism, to the horror of her family: when she opted for a long stay at a Buddhist retreat center, he mother expressed disgust at her daughter living with "all those heathens," and added, "And don't start telling me about that Ricochet of yours."
Unsure and eager,
she initially found the long meditation postures painful and ritual
and Tibetan chanting difficult, resorting at times to repeating, "Pasta
primavera, pasta primavera," so that her lips would be moving.
Her eagerness led her to volunteer her kitchen expertise, and immediate
regret overwhelmed her as she realized that she had placed herself,
literally and figuratively, right back into the heat of the kitchen,
perhaps not the easiest place to find enlightenment. But Karma is true.
Ms. Snow saw a friend and kitchen coworker through the dying of her beautiful young daughter. While blending egg whites and chocolate for a mousse, she came to understand the foolishness of insisting on dualisms. She earned a nickname, not the glorious variety she hoped for, but humble and appropriate. And then, in the midst of the whirl and hubbub of the kitchen, she decided to practice silence for a while. Of all her lessons, this became a key. People treated her differently and she saw the world from a slightly removed, more centered place; what had been din changed as in the sound of the huge mixer: she was "hearing it for the first time as a sculpture of sound rather than an irritating noise one must talk over."
And then her mother became ill, and Ms. Snow was thrust into the kind of family ordeal that is always a test. Her sister worried about idols in the house and the possibility of a shaved head; her sister in law (the one with "the Twelve days of Christmas placemats that she changes daily for all Twelve days") quietly filched the good china, and her mother, still outrageous and demanding, was a little old lady who needed her help.
Early on, the person who was to become her primary teacher, told Kimberley Snow, "You know, all these projects, you're just rearranging the clouds. What you really need is to concentrate on the nature of the sky." In her latest book, full of Buddhist wisdom and funny stories, Ms. Snow lets us enjoy both clouds and sky.
What Neal Crosbie thought of In Buddha's Kitchen:
From Publishers Weekly May 2003
sweet potato queens meet Pema Chodron in this book about "enlightenment
having"-as a Tibetan teacher might phrase it-in the kitchen of
a California Tibetan Buddhist retreat center. Southern-born, Presbyterian-bred
author Snow lays out a buffet of episodes from her life before and
during her tenure as cook in the center. She's a divorced ex-gourmet
chef and refugee from academia,
"always leaving, never staying to work it out." In this book,
the Buddhist dharma (teaching) comes from the stove instead of the meditation
cushion, making it concrete, engaging and generally highly entertaining.
In addition to her raconteur ability, Snow has a gift for applying Tibetan
Buddhist teaching, which can seem foreign or esoteric, to real life with
its quirky demands and characters. One chapter is even entitled "Dzogchenpa
among the Presbyterians."
Narrative progression in the first half of the book is a little choppy
as the author relates life episodes in no apparent logical order, but
later chapters gather steam, providing background that unrolls to drive
the book forward to a resolution of dawning wisdom. Some of the episodes
could go on longer, because characters are so memorably sketched that
it's a shame to leave them so quickly. Overall, this is a small jewel,
and it's altogether refreshing to read a Buddhist book with a sense of