The Silent Chef Speaks
Anyone who has worked in the food service industry knows what a hectic, fast paced life it entails. Those who have started their own restaurant know that it can be an all consuming process that requires 24/7 attention. Recipes and menus need to be created, systems developed, staff trained, walls painted – you name it. The formation of The Blossoming Lotus Restaurant on Kaua’i, Hawaii was no exception. It was ordinary in many regards and extraordinary in others.
Mark Reinfeld is the founding chef. He had over 10 years of vegan consulting experience under his belt before arriving on the Island. He and partners Gabriel Zingaro and Jessyka Murray worked tirelessly with a group of people to open the restaurant. What is unique about this story is that Mark was a silent partner. Silent in the true sense of the word. He observed a vow of silence for the first 18 months of the restaurant’s history.
The Blossoming Lotus went on to win the 2006 Ilima Award for “Best Restaurant on Kaua’i”. Mark’s cookbook, Vegan Fusion World Cuisine, has won 9 national awards, including a Gourmand Award for ‘Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the USA.’
QUESTION: Mark, I found out recently that you weren’t speaking when you first came to Kaua’i. Can you tell us about that time?
When I came to Kaua’i in February of 2002, it was originally for a 2 week vacation. When I got here I loved it so much I decided to stay. Based on some of my past experiences, I was interested in doing an extended silent retreat. I thought I could find a private chef gig where I would live on someone’s land and live a quiet life. As it turns out, I was offered a consulting position, helping an internet café convert itself to a vegan café and bakery which we called The Blossoming Lotus. The pull to retreat was so strong I wound up observing 18 months of continual silence.
Q: Wow! I don’t know where to begin. Did you have any prior experience with extended periods of silence?
I had been on several 10 day silent retreats as well as an occasional day or weekend retreat. I was also in silence during a 6 month travel journey in the Indian Himalayas. It became more and more natural and comfortable for me to be in silence. The closest I can come to describing it is to imagine how you feel when you wake up really early in the morning and don’t feel like talking. Or if you visit a place that is so breathtakingly beautiful that it leaves you speechless. It’s similar to that except for an extended period.
Q: Can you share why you did this for so long?
Mainly because of the deep sense of peace that can open up from the space of silence. Silence of speech makes it easier to witness the patterns of the mind. I very much wanted to clear my mind and this seemed like a powerful way to go about it. It helped me to observe events without reacting, at least verbally. It was rarely a struggle. A few times I did slip up and say ‘thank you”.
Stay tuned for the next segment of our interview with Mark Reinfeld where we learn how he communicated with his business partners and staff. Discover how he met his wife Jennifer while in silence and why he decided to speak.