CommitmentNow: One Taste: Vegetarian Home Cooking from Around the World is a wonderful cookbook featuring recipes from homes around the world. Where did you get the idea to create such an interesting book?
Sharon Louise Crayton: I was living in California, chef of a restaurant, raising my children when I was introduced to Buddhist meditation by my teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. I began cooking for him when he visited as well as other lamas though the years. Then one day he suggested that I write a cookbook about meditation and cooking, keeping a meditating attitude while cooking. This suggestion took me by complete surprise. After reflecting and using my own practice it became clear to me how to write such a book. I wanted it to be practical. My interest in cooking was in what people cooked for their families rather than focusing on fancy food. I also felt meditation should be incorporated in everyday life and not just centered around meditating on a cushion.
CommitmentNow: Your book features recipes from countries such as Morocco, Portugal, Japan, Germany and Bhutan. How did you come to do so much traveling?
Sharon: I have always had the opportunity to travel. My father always encouraged me to travel, saying this was the best education one could get. Consequently I have encouraged my children to explore the world. I think it opens our eyes and makes us more flexible and tolerant. After the children were almost raised I moved to France and from there I was able to do more traveling. In France, I was in school with refugees learning French. Our communication was limited so the way we shared was through our cooking. For some of the recipes I didn’t travel to the countries, I learned from people’s kitchens in France. Their kitchens were alive with their cultures.
CommitmentNow: When visiting homes in these different countries, you asked the cooks for the recipes their families love best. What did your travels teach you about foods, cultures and families?
Sharon: To not make a big deal about cooking and use what you have. How I learned to cook was watching another person cook in their kitchen. Being in the kitchens of different countries inspired me to see what tools they used, techniques, the ingredients and the simplicity of the dishes that pleased their families and guests. The one point that impressed me was they didn’t need fancy kitchens or equipment to produce wonderful results. The other teaching I received was seeing their generosity in cooking and serving the meal weather they were rich or poor.
CommitmentNow: Many of the foods in some of the countries you visited, such as Germany and France, are very meat-oriented. Was it difficult to find vegetarian recipes in these places?
Sharon: No, not really. I also adapted a meat recipe too. There is a movement towards vegetarian cooking and organic produce. You see more and more wonderful vegetarian restaurants and cookbooks. I think the US has more to offer in this area but in France and Germany they are cooking more vegetarian. Always they have used vegetables because of their gardens and fresh produce markets. Their markets are so wonderful and inspiring. The French just know what to do with a vegetable in season and how to enjoy a meal.
CommitmentNow: You are a practicing Buddhist. How does Buddhism affect the meals you prepare and the way you prepare them?
Sharon: Buddhism has affected my attitude towards cooking and serving food. It has taught me to have the right motivation. Our own spirituality will grow when we have the attitude to be cooking for others and making others happy. We will grow richer in our hearts. We are all connected so cooking connects us to loving-kindness. This to me is nurturing.
Commitment: In One Taste, you talk about cooking with a “fresh mind.” What does that mean?
Sharon: I learned cooking from an old Frenchwoman named Josephine. Every morning she would take everything out of her fridge and look at her ingredients with no preconceived ideas to see what she could make for that day’s meal. It is a wonderful way to use leftovers in the fridge. “Fresh Mind” is cooking with a mind that is not judging, conceptualizing, or rigid. It is natural, creative and adaptable. Our expectations and obsessions fall away. Our minds are more relaxed with the ideas of the exotic and the nutritious and the endless choices at the grocery store. It is a mind that is appreciating whatever is happening in the moment and trusting that.
CommitmentNow: You have included meditations throughout One Taste. Have meditations helped you enjoy cooking more?
Sharon: Yes. Cooking can cause anxiety and feel like too much of a chore sometimes. Remembering the meditation technique: Choose an object or breath. Stand straight. Watch the object or breath. Concentrate on the object while your thoughts run here and there. Keep returning your mind to the object. There is nothing else to do. Do 30 seconds. This technique brings us back to appreciating whatever is happening. Our minds are like monkeys jumping here and there creating more ideas for the future and more memories from the past. The simple meditations in the recipes remind us to come back. Meditation is not a habit we have learned so we must be reminded to develop the habit. Learning meditation loosens the grip the shoulds, coulds, and woulds. I am less afraid to cook and consequently cook using more of my creative intuition and self-confidence.
Sharon Louise Crayton has been intimately involved with cooking and food for more than 30 years. After studying nutrition and French cooking at San Jose State University in California and the Bay Area, she began creating recipes for companies such as S&W Foods, Foster Farm Chickens, Del Monte, and Spice Islands. Then she struck out on her own, opening the Café Sparrow, a California-French fusion restaurant, in Aptos, California. There she served as proprietor, chef, and maître d’ while also raising two children. In the mists of this busy operation, she met Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, who became her Buddhist meditation teacher and inspired her to slow down her life and begin investigating the intersections of Buddhism, cooking, and compassion.
In 1989, after selling Café Sparrow, Crayton immersed herself full-time in the study of Western and Chinese herbal medicine, food theory, and acupuncture. Eventually, she began traveling the world. Her journeys took her for long periods to Dordogne, France, and to Portugal, where she honed both her culinary skills and her Buddhist knowledge, cooking fresh, simple, lovingly prepared meals for some of the great Buddhist masters of our time. She currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Visit Sharon at http://www.sharonlouisecrayton.com/Crayton/Welcome.html
To purchase One Taste: Vegetarian Home Cooking from Around the World, click here.