We start each day by cleaning the kitchen.
This is not just ancient wisdom passed down from the first Zen cooks. It is very practical and aesthetic advice as well. A clean kitchen clears the mind, refreshes the palette, ensures that all kitchen resources are available for the day’s work.
The act of cleaning the kitchen clears the mind. The first Zen cooks (along with other Zen practitioners) called this state “beginner’s mind”. It’s a great way to start the day. You start by looking at the mess left behind from the night before, and you despair how you are going to get this all cleaned up.
Then you determine to make a start…somewhere, anywhere. And you work your way through the mess at that point. You concentrate at the task at hand, making sure every dish, every bowl, every serving utensil is clean, refreshed, ready to work again.
This whole process is necessary to bring about beginner’s mind. But once you’re there, anything is possible in the kitchen.
The other thing to understand about cleaning the kitchen at the start of each day is that it is the unglamorous portion of the cook’s life. It’s messy, it’s hot, and sometimes you wonder just how the hell this stuff got caked on this spoon in the first place.
We call that “ordinary time”. (It’s named after the Christian observance of the weeks between Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent, but our use is based on the meaning of “ordinary” as “everyday”.) But it’s just as necessary as the “extraordinary time” of the cook’s life: the creativity, tension, and joy in the act of cooking food for others.
A beginner’s mind in ordinary time. It’s how we start each day.
By cleaning the kitchen.