Lionsgate // 2007 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // May 22nd, 2008
Find nirvana in the kitchen.
Deliciously entertaining and thoroughly enlightening, Doris Dörrie's documentary How to Cook Your Life proves cooking can be so much more than just an everyday necessity to still our hunger and nourish our body.
The film centers on Zen priest and renowned chef Edward Espe Brown, who has been practicing Buddhism since 1965 and has led countless meditation and cooking classes around the world. In this documentary, he advocates the importance of treating food with respect and patience, combining the core principals of Zen with critical cooking guidelines to explain that people quite simply are what they eat.
Those of you who hate cooking should probably stay away from How to Cook Your Life, but if you enjoy spending time in your kitchen and find pleasure in preparing food for yourself or others, this little film can be quite an enlightening experience. An avid cook herself, German director Doris Dörrie follows Brown to several Zen centers in Austria and California, where he offers his students spiritual lessons on what cooking is really about and how crucial it is to pick the right ingredients when prepping a meal. He also says that when you are cooking, you are not just making food; you are working on yourself and others. The lessons and seminars he offers usually include several meditation sessions, in which he urges people to explore the connection between food and life and how the essence of cooking comes out of your heart, not a package.
Brown's special sense of humor and his interactions with his students provide the film with a generally light atmosphere, although several sequences take on a more serious tone, including an interesting insight into the principles of Zen Buddhism. Besides showing Brown do his thing and tell his viewers all about finding nirvana in the kitchen, Dörrie changes pace by visiting an organic farm and a cookware store and interviewing an eccentric lady who explains how she managed to eat healthy without having bought any groceries for about two years. The film also includes original footage of Brown's mentor Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who talks more about some core elements of Buddhism. Mixed all together, this horde of entertaining and informative material is as enjoyable as a well-flavored dish prepared with a lot of love and fresh ingredients.
Technically, the film is cooked just the right way. Although most documentaries are produced on small budgets and filmmakers are not able to use top-quality equipment to shoot their films, the picture quality in How to Cook Your Life is totally acceptable. Dörrie spent almost as much time filming outdoors than indoors, and the image is crisp and clear throughout. The audio transfer is working just fine as well, and the dominating dialogue is always clearly understandable and well-balanced with the rest of the film's sound effects.
Besides a theatrical trailer, the disc does not include any special features, but that's certainly not a big deal. The film offers a solid portrait of Brown and his philosophy. If you want to find out more about him or his cooking lessons and/or books, the Web will provide tons of information. The ingredients on this disc are fine the way they are, though.
How to Cook Your Life is a tasty experiment that offers you some interesting tips on how to appreciate and treat food. Additionally, you really don't have to be into Buddhism at all to fully enjoy the film. Whether you agree with what Brown has to say or not, his cooking lessons are certainly fun to observe. I highly recommend this film to everybody with a passion for cooking. Bon appétit!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site