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Vegan Travel Korea: Meet Jeong Kwan from Chef’s Table

Just a few hours from Seoul is the home of Jeong Kwan, the Buddhist nun or sunim that was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Whether meeting her has been on your bucketlist or you just want to visit the countryside and eat some amazing vegan food, paying her a visit will probably be one of your most memorable experiences in Korea.  In fact, foodies and professional chefs alike are flying to Korea just to learn more about her work.

Jeong Kwan’s hermitage is located at Baekyangsa Temple in Jeollanam-do Province and perhaps the easiest way to visit her is to book a food experience temple stay.  For 150,000 won, you can sign up to live the life of a monk for a weekend and meet Jeong Kwan.  It is accessible by bus or by train, and directions are provided at the temple stay website.

The program schedule is subject to change but you can expect your stay to something like this. When you arrive at the temple grounds, temple stay coordinator SeoEun ‘Daisy’ Park, will meet you and help you get settled.  The temple stay accommodation is quite new but built in traditional Korean style. Everyone sleeps on the heated floors on thick comfortable mats. If the group is quite big men and women are placed in separate sleeping quarters but, when there is room, they are able to accommodate couples and families sleeping together.  Women and men’s bathroom and shower rooms are on the ground floor. Bring your own towels and toiletries because they are not provided.

On the first day, you will get a tour of the temple, have some great vegan food at the temple cafeteria, strike the evening bell and make your own Buddhist prayer beads. It’s bedtime around 9-10 pm because the day starts early at the temple.

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By 4:30 am the next day you will find yourself chanting and meditating with the monks. It is really a special experience to join them in their daily ritual.  The energy in the room just might give you goosebumps. And the best part is that you don’t just observe but can use the romanized chant books to participated actively to sing together if you don’t read Korean.   After another great vegan breakfast with members of the community, it is time for morning chores. Every day the monks sweep the temple grounds with a broom made of twigs. The next activity is actually free time, but they recommend you explore the hiking trails on the beautiful mountain.  This is especially breathtaking in the autumn season as the leaves change color.

Finally, the highlight of the trip! The rest of the day will be spent in the company of Jeong Kwan seunim at her hermitage above Baekyangsa Temple. It is a bit of a walk to get to her but that only makes the reward at the end sweeter.  A dedicated cooking studio has been built for the class and students are greeted with hot tea and a chance to intermingle with each other a little before Jeong Kwan appears.  Despite her small stature, she has a big presence and her star status can be quite intimidating at first. But she prefers a comfortable, intimate environment so you will find yourself quite at home very quickly.   After listening to introductions from every member of the group, Jeong Kwan will introduce herself and begin teaching her approach and cooking philosophy as she prepares a meal before your eyes.  At the end of it, you will likely be shocked to see just how many delicious dishes she was able to prepare with simple plant-based ingredients.  After enjoying your meal, Jeong Kwan will teach a meditation class and then pose for photos before the day wraps up around 2 pm.  Then it will be time for you to head back home with the calm mindfulness you learned at the temple forever in your heart,

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