by Danny Chu
Shojin ryori is a Japanese vegetarian cuisine that originates from Zen temples. Presented simply, in Zen style, it draws out the natural flavors of seasonal vegetables.
It is a traditional art of Japan’s finest cuisine, and the monk in the temple uses the preparation of shojin ryori as part of his meditation, being mindful of various philosophies behind the cooking. It is this aspect of shojin cooking that has captivated me and, for someone who is always on a spiritual quest, this is particularly significant.
I faced numerous difficulties in obtaining information about shojin ryori in my home city of Singapore; even the embassy told me to give up trying to learn this traditional art in Japan, as I am not Japanese. Fortunately, with help from my friends, I managed to gather some leads. Driven by my passion, I left my comfortable corporate life and headed for Japan in search of the wonders of this cuisine.
After spending approximately three years honing my craft, making several trips to Japan, I decided to establish Enso Kitchen restaurant. I was the first in Singapore to introduce this delicate cuisine outside of Japan. I also pioneered the concept of personalized chef services for the home and office. It was a concept that I felt would plug the gap of catering to smaller party groups. This concept has also evolved into serving shojin meals at specific dates during each of the four seasons, at a Japanese restaurant in Singapore, as well as conducting cooking classes and demonstrations of this fine cuisine.
Through Enso Kitchen, I have had the opportunity to serve many established businesspeople, professionals, celebrities, political leaders, gourmet chefs and other public figures, gaining compliments from both vegetarian and non-vegetarian customers. Enso Kitchen has also caught the attention of all the mainstream media.
Learning the art of shojin cooking has allowed me to accomplish my goal of integrating spirituality, a fulfilling work life and daily life into one entity. There was nothing else I could ask for… or so I had thought.
In February 2009, I suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital where I had two stents placed in my heart arteries. I was stunned. Everyone was puzzled. No one could believe a health-conscious and active person like me could suffer a heart attack.
Friends had called me a poster boy for health. I felt ashamed at that moment; a feeling of having let them down. The doctors could not find the cause of the heart attack except for citing the possibility of my hereditary high blood pressure, which I’ve had since I was young. Thanks to my healthy lifestyle, my road to recovery was swift and even the doctors were amazed; I was able to go to work at the restaurant the very next day after I was discharged from the hospital. Nobody sensed anything was amiss.
The Buddhist teaching that, “Death is certain, but when it will arrive is not” resonate even more profoundly in me now. It was during this time that I met my partner and had the opportunity to move to Taiwan in 2010. We subsequently established a holistic centre in Taipei, where I was able to pursue my other spiritual interests.
For years, I had a nagging uneasiness, that I was neglecting what I know and have achieved in the art of shojin cooking, especially having gone through so much to acquire such precious skills. Meditating on death and impermanence gave me the idea to pen down my knowledge about shojin ryori and its recipes so that I could pass the knowledge on.
Through a lead, I contacted Marshall Cavendish, an established publisher in Singapore, to pitch my idea. Marshall Cavendish accepted promptly to work together to produce a cookbook about shojin ryori. With their professional guidance, I was able to publish my first cookbook, Shojin Ryori: The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine, in 2014 and a subsequent cookbook, Living Shojin Ryori, in 2018.
This has been a dream come true — to be able to pull together my knowledge and cooking experience into a book of recipes that is more than the embodiment of shojin ryori; it is my life’s work up until now… And the recipes are easy to follow! With this book, I hope that more people will gain a better knowledge of this cuisine and that they embrace the principles of its cooking in their own kitchens.
Chef Danny Chu worked as a foreign currency trader in Singapore before leaving for Japan to follow his passion to learn more about shojin ryori, the art of Japanese Zen cuisine. With sheer hard work and unwavering determination, Chef Danny mastered traditional Zen temple cooking and became the first shojin ryori chef in Singapore. He ran the popular Enso Kitchen in Singapore for several years, delighting both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike with his creative dishes, and garnering rave reviews from the media, including Wine & Dine, Travel+Leisure, BBC Good Food, Appetite, The Peak, Business Times and Channel News Asia. Today, Chef Danny is based in Taiwan where he shares the art of shojin ryori through cooking demonstrations and classes.