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Lions Roar : July 2017
RESTAURANT KITCHENS can be stressful, ego-filled places, says Rev. Dai- ken Nelson, who has worked in his share of them. That’s why the Zen priest and former social worker offers basic medi- tation training at his culinary training classes, along with the pointers on how to dice, braise, and plate food. The Mandala Kitchens Project is Nel- son’s free, six-week program in Harlem, New York. While open to everyone, it is geared towards those who could use extra support in starting a career in the kitchen—the once homeless and for- merly incarcerated, military veterans, and those battling substance abuse and men- tal health issues. Nelson has the right skillset to lead such an enterprise: after working in kitchens throughout high school and university, he spent years as a social worker. He began his Zen practice twenty-seven years ago in his home state of Iowa. After receiving dharma trans- mission four years ago from Sensei Paco Genkoji Lugoviña, he was “pushed out of the nest, and told to go forth and do good, to manifest practice,” he says. Today, Nelson is the guiding teacher at Pamsula Zen Center in Harlem and runs a catering business that supplies food at local events and helps finance the free culinary training. The Mandala Kitchens Project is designed to give participants “better- than-entry-level skills” to work in the food service industry. They learn the basics of cooking, but also more general skills, such as how to land and hold a job and how to work as part of a team. Nelson’s emphasis is as much on help- ing participants grow as people as it is on turning out culinary pros. Each class begins with mindfulness meditation that will give participants the tools to deal with the high-stress world of the com- mercial kitchen. Then there is the weekly meal the group prepares with the Satya Sai Baba Community of Manhattan. Here, par- ticipants learn how to cook for a big group—and have an opportunity to give back to the larger community, just as Nelson does. ♦ BODHISATTVAS Mind of a Chef At the Mandala Kitchens Project in Harlem, Zen priest DAIKEN NELSON is using meditation to prepare people for a culinary career. RISAAKITA/HEAPSMAGAZINE Tell us about a bodhisattva you know at