How to Cook Your Life


Written and directed by Doris Dörrie

Cooking and Buddhism make a tasty combination in Doris Dörrie’s documentary. And in the world view of its subject, Edward Espe Brown–Zen master, gourmet chef, and author of The Tassajara Bread Book. The camera does little more than follow Brown as he gives cooking classes, discusses the importance of thinking about what you eat, and drops pearls of wisdom like “If you have a little bit of shit on your nose, everything smells bad.”

Not that Brown comes off as possessing a Buddha-like temperament. He freely admits tendencies to get impatient and angry, and we get to watch him control his frustration as he tries to open a vacuum-wrapped package of cheese. And he’s anything but serene as he realizes that several students aren’t sure they’ve added salt to a mix–you must pay attention to what you’re doing if you want to master breads or zen.

Life is full of troubles, many far worse than leaving out the salt. Brown suggests we roll with them like a duck on the Atlantic (a metaphor he got from his dying mother). And that we try to turn our anger into useful energy.

At 100 minutes, How to Cook Your Life runs a bit long. Near the end, I found myself checking my watch in a far-from-Zen mindset. But when I left the theater, I wanted to renounce junk food and spend the rest of my life eating only wholesome foods made from scratch.