BANGKOK -- Asia's newest celebrity chef does not concoct outlandish 12-course tasting menus at the hippest hotel in Tokyo, Singapore or Hong Kong. Instead, she cultivates cabbage, mushrooms and roots at a remote monastery in South Korea, where she has lived for nearly half a century, serving her celebrated temple cuisine mainly to monks.
Forget wagyu, seafood or rich sauces. Jeong Kwan, 65, meditates on the meaning of her strictly vegetarian ingredients, before blending them into sometimes complex dishes at Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea's Jeolla region, about 240 km south of Seoul. The Zen Buddhist nun, wrapped in robes and with her head shaved, looks the very antithesis of a celebrity chef. Yet she has become one of the world's most surprising culinary sensations.