Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters

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  • Zen is not just about what we do in the meditation hall, but what we do in the home, the workplace, and the community. That's the premise of this book: how to cook what Zen Buddhists call "the supreme meal"—life. It has to be nourishing, and it has to be shared. And we can use only the ingredients at hand. Inspired by the thirteenth-century manual of the same name by Dogen, the founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, this book teaches us how we can "enlarge the family we're feeding" if we just use some imagination. Bernie Glassman founded Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, in 1982 to employ those whom other companies deem unemployable—the homeless, ex-cons, recovering addicts, low-skill individuals—with the belief that investing in people, and not just products, does pay. He was right. Greyston has evolved into an $8 million-a-year business with clients all over New York City. It is the sole supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and has even sold cakes to the White House. But financial profit is only one of two bottom lines that Greyston is committed to. The other one is social impact, and this goal is certainly being met. The bakery enterprise has led to the creation of the Greyston Foundation, an integrated network of organizations that provide affordable housing, child care, counseling services, and health care to families in the community. Using entrepreneurship to solve the problems of the inner city, Greyston has become a national model for comprehensive community development. Its giving back is more than just sloughing off a percentage of its profits and donating it to charity; it's about working with the community's needs right from the beginning—bringing them from the margins to the core. As its company motto goes, "We don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people." This book is as much a self-manual as a business manual, addressing such concepts as    • Beginner's mind    • The Middle Way of Sustainability    • The "hungry ghosts" of Buddhism as a picture of all humanity    • Working with our faults    • Indra's Net and the interconnectedness of life    • Leaving no trace
  • Author:
    Bernie Glassman
    Rick Fields
    Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters
    Used Book in Good Condition
    Brand: Shambhala
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Recent User Reviews

  1. jim berman
    "A life-changing approach to bringing Zen living to"
    Purchase Date:
    Oct 16, 2013
    Purchase Price:
    Pros - Written in a language that appeals to cooks
    Cons - Opening your mind to Zen studies may be tough for the unconvinced
    Instructions to the Cook

    Bernard Glassman & Rick Fields

    Reviewed by Jim Berman

    Guilty! I judged a book by its cover. I was in between titles, waiting for Ivan Ramen and the new Rene Redzpi, while I doggedly flopped through the new releases section at the local big-box  book store. The title, Instructions to the Cook caught my attention and I bought it, unopened without even a glimpse at the back cover, a gander at page one or even a shot at the author bio.

    And it isn’t a cook book. Or even a book on food.  Joke is on me. Rather, it’s about life. And cooks need a little set of instructions now and then.  “Cooking, like life, is about transformation. When we cook, we work directly with the elemental forces of fire and heat, water, metal, and clay. We put the lid on the pot and wait for the fire to transform the rice, or we mix the bread with yeast and put it in the oven to bake. There is something magical hidden, almost magical about it..”

    I read Instructions to the Cook while still digesting The Back of the House about Tony Maws’s kitchen mystique and unpredictability.  Instructions is the perfect follow-up; it worked well to sooth the fiery, vehemence that comes with running a world-class operation. And, again, it provided balance.

    What we do, what we juggle, the fires we extinguish and often start, the pace at which we race, the physical trials we exercise, the demons we excise, all take their toll. And, as many cooks will tell you, burn-out is a reality. The intensity is akin to sprinting; it works in the short-term, but the pace can simply not be maintained. Something has to give. Our industry is ripe with abuses of many colors and flavors; and those abuses are just the start. We can take out that ferocious intensity on each other in the form of venom-laced tirades; unexpected terminations, often on a whim; suspension, if even momentarily, of that kitchen camaraderie that we all relish. All products of that unfiltered ferocity.

    Glassman is not unknown in the culinary world, however. He is the founder of the Greyston Bakery, a staple in Yonkers, founded on the Zen belief of sustainability and enriching the lives of the people involved. The bakery is a burgeoning empire of its own and supporting community initiatives, low-income housing, health care and education.

    A concise synopsis of the book can be found at In essence, there are countless parallels in the art of finding the Zen way of living a full life and the ingredients that make up our kitchens, the morsels that make up the dishes we serve and the process that we call cooking. Unlike other pieces I have reviewed, I offer little in terms of the storyline and the content. Rather, for you cooks, Instructions to the Cook is a treatise; it is a guiding light on how to live. There are similarities with the boiling pot and troubles brewing, there are bits on cleaning the kitchen as discovery; the taste regions of the tongue as harmony; aspects of life as ingredients. “See the pot as your own head, see the water as your lifeblood.”


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