The new documentary The Farmer & The Chef debuted last night in New York City, profiling chef David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, California, and the farmer who grows his produce, Cynthia Sandberg. Here, five Zen master tips on life we learned.
The new documentary The Farmer & The Chef debuted last night in New York City, profiling chef David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, California, and the incredible farmer who grows his produce, Cynthia Sandberg. It’s a beautiful, meditative look at the profoundly seasonal restaurant, which closed in July after a fire, and the intensive biodynamic farming practices that supply the restaurant with its ultra-fresh vegetables. The evening was also packed with thoughtful reflections on cooking, farming and life in general – and the intersection of the three. Here, five Zen master nuggets of wisdom we learned:
1. On the importance of all the senses: "I choose my vegetables by aroma,” said Kinch after the screening. “I find that smells are almost better inspiration than tasting things. And I think aroma is a thing that’s missing from restaurants nowadays. I don’t trust environments where I go and I can’t smell anything, like a hospital. It’s nice to be able to smell things. It makes you hungry. You salivate. It raises your expectations.”
2. On excellence and being in the present moment: “A good chef is only as good as his last meal,” says Sandberg in the film. Farming and cooking – and life – are all ephemeral: we are judged on what we grow (cook, do) today, not what happened yesterday.
3. On the value of the unusual practices of biodynamic farming: “You’re stirring this bucket [of water mixed with dried cow dung] for an hour,” said Kinch after the film, “and you’re thinking, ‘This is crazy. What exactly is going on?’ But what is going on is that while you’re doing this, you’re thinking about the process, and why you’re doing it. The process is focusing your energy, and creating attention to detail. When you excel in anything, it’s always about attention to details. God is in the details. The devil is in the details. Being aware of things like moon cycles and how light refracts off soil and why you’re burying a cow horn – is it just symbolic? It might very well just be symbolic, but what it’s forcing you to do is to contemplate your actions and every step that you make while you’re doing something.”
4. On setting boundaries in relationships: Says Kinch in the film, “Cynthia doesn’t tell me how to cook things at the restaurant, and I don’t tell her how to grow things at the farm.”
5. On patience: Kinch visits Love Apple Farm many times throughout each week; watching the vegetables grow inspires his creativity. When he walks by a cabbage two or three times in the span of a week, he says, watching it grow, the idea for how to use it in the kitchen grows in him as well. By the time the plant has come to maturity and is ready to be harvested, his culinary idea is fully formed and ready too.
In other good news, Kinch reports that Manresa is on its way to reopening. While he did not offer a firm date, he did frame the rebuilding progress in culinary terms: the cooks have once again begun pickling and fermenting vegetables in preparation for opening the doors. Learn more about the film at thefarmerandthechefmovie.com.