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Life

Asia's newest celebrity chef elevates Korean temple food

From her mountain haven, Jeong Kwan's vegetarian cuisine reaches across the world

Icon Award winner Jeong Kwan shows off fresh produce she grows in her gardens at Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea. (Courtesy of Davin Park)

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.

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