If you can’t stand the heat, maybe it’s time to get into the kitchen

The link between cooking and mindfulness was brought into focus by the work of sushi master Yoshimi Hayakawa of Wa cafe


Mindfulness seems, suddenly, to be everywhere. My colleague Tony Bates is bringing mindfulness to the media and the airwaves each week. The Guardian reports that one of the great figures in the discipline, Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, has been in England advising politicians and health policy makers in Westminster.

“The find it, fix it model of medicine doesn’t work any more,” Mr Kabat-Zinn told the newspaper.

The MBSR programme is an eight-week series of meditation and yoga sessions. This is all wonderful, wonderful stuff, but I want to suggest that there is an everyday path to mindfulness that needn’t involve solitary contemplation.

Room with a stew
Strangely enough, one of the best places to practise mindfulness is in the hurly burly of the kitchen.

It was the brilliant Yoshimi Hayakawa, of the Wa Japanese restaurant in Galway, who brought this thought into focus for me.

When we talk about mindfulness and food, we normally focus on eating rather than cooking. But when my wife and I were making a short film about Ms Hayakawa and, in particular, her technique of making nigiri sushi, virtually everything she said about food and cooking encompassed mindfulness.

Sushi masters – shokunin – work for ten years to learn their craft, which encompasses not only technique but also “the spirit of sushi”, says Ms Hayakawa.

“For Japanese people, food is life,” she told us, “so we have to eat everything from top to end, to respect food, to respect life. In the family we are told, ‘don’t waste any piece of grain of rice in your bowl’. So a sushi chef learns this spirit as well.”

This spirit – of respect, of attentiveness to the smallest grain of rice – seems to me the very essence of mindfulness.

You can focus on it in the kitchen as you go about your cooking: how many coffee beans are in the spoon that will be ground for your morning coffee? How many strands of spaghetti are in the 100 grammes in your lunch dish of spaghetti with pesto?

This means mindfulness can be an active, living, working thing, something with the ability to transform your kitchen work from a chore into a release.

Unbearable lightness of sushi
When Ms Hayakawa is making nigiri sushi, she is aiming to have the exact same weight of rice – 20 grammes – in every piece. Initially she had to weigh the rice: today, she can judge it by eye and by experience.

Mindfulness breeds care in our cooking, whilst abundance can breed carelessness. So measure carefully in the kitchen, and focus on the fact that every grain is life itself, and gives us life. The “spirit of sushi” is mindfulness in action.

John McKenna is author of the Irish Food Guide. guides.ie

For more d, see wacafe.net. Watch the Wa Café film on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=5fFEBsUXZ7I