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Edward Espe Brown

Excerpts from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings: Recipes and Reflections

Stories of Ed's life and practice at Tassajara and with his teacher, Shunryu Suzuki


[from the introduction - p. xxii]

This is a book about my path through life. Along the way I thought I was going here or going there, doing this or that, yet only now can I see how many of the threads connect. There's a profound mystery to this raveling and unraveling, to the unfolding of each life.

After discovering Zen practice and cooking in 1965, 1 got a job as the dishwasher at Tassajara Hot Springs in May 1966. A summer resort since the 1880s, Tassajara was purchased by the San Francisco Zen Center in December of that year. In its last year under the ownership of Bob and Anna Beck, I apprenticed in the kitchen, not only washing the dishes, but learning to make bread, assemble soups, and prepare breakfast. Jimmie Vaughn and Ray Hurslander were the cooks who tutored me. I owe a great deal to their instruction and encouragement.

Halfway through that summer a pivotal event occurred that gave my life a direction. Ray quit, and I was offered his job. Accepting this position I encountered the twin challenges of learning to cook and learning to cope with cook's temperament. Jimmie continued as the dinner cook and gave me guidance as I undertook the task of preparing breakfast and lunch. Lunch was especially useful training, since it involved using up leftovers.

The following May I accepted an invitation to be the head cook of the new Zen Mountain Center at Tassajara, and I continued in this position through the summer of 1969. Many of the stories in this book are from that pivotal period in my life.

My first book, The Tassajara Bread Book, came out in 1970. Published by Shambhala Publications, the Bread Book was christened the "bible of bread-making' " by the Washington Post and became an instant best-seller, contributing, it seems, to the revival of bread-making in this country.

In 1971 I was ordained as a Zen priest by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and given the Buddhist name Jusan Kainei, Longevity Mountain Peaceful Sea. Meanwhile in the summer Of 1970 1 married Meg Gawler, and our daughter Lichen was born in April 1973, the year my second book, Tassajara Cooking, appeared. Having arrived at Tassajara with almost nothing in 1967, by the time I left in December 1973, 1 had a wife, a daughter, a car, a carload of possessions, and two books to my name. Zen in America is not like Zen anywhere else in the world.

We moved to the Zen Center in San Francisco and for several years I was on the Zen fast track as buyer, guest manager, head of the meditation hall, head resident teacher, president, chairman of the board. During that time my marriage came apart, and eventually I dropped out again to work at Greens, our new vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco.

Since we had an excellent kitchen crew, I concentrated on working the front of the house: busboy, waiter, floor manager, host, and eventually wine buyer and co-manager. I left Greens at the end of 1983. The Tassajara Recipe Book, to which I contributed, came out in 1985, and then I had the good fortune to assist Deborah Madison, the founding chef at Greens, on her work The Greens Cookbook.

Ever since my days as a cook at Tassajara I have been interested in teaching others to cook. In more recent years I have taught cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area, nationally, and in Europe. I love this activity of teaching and encouraging people to cook. It's so nourishing for all of us.

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