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Monk Zhu

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Monk Zhu (September 1, 1513 – January 6, 1605), also known as “The Travelling Monk”, “The tree Saint”, And the “The Calm Cook” was an urban legend, monk, philosopher, author, and cook who was entrusted with the kitchen of the Emperor Xian Xi for a brief period of time. He was also the unofficial Councillor to the emperor, and held the “supreme seat of wisdom” from October 1539 to December 1540. Among his best known works is Mandarin Oak- a book written in 1556 and published much later, which talks about the oriental recipes he developed under the great oak tree and the learning therein from the many travelers that crossed his path and happen to share a meal with him. It is also from these rendezvous that Monk Zhu drew his inspirations for food which he later incorporated in this food and journal. His recipes which often crossed boundaries of the orient became extremely popular in the era, and made the Emperor leave his palace to see his culinary affairs. Soon after he was entrusted with the Royal Kitchen which who left the position owing to the condition of Chinese peasants who were starving and unable to pay their taxes. He left the court to hold weekly free meals at the Mandarin Oak- where he started this culinary journey.

Known best for his exceptional work at the emperor’s court which brought delegates from in and around the world to taste the newly introduced Sichuan Cuisine which happened as a result of the Expansion of European trade. Monk Zhu was also a pioneer at introducing new world flavours to his food which he gathered from his studies and at the court of the emperor. In the wake of 1643, however, Monk Zhu decided to leave China and travel far and wide in order to gain more knowledge. Some say he foresaw the destruction of the Ming dynasty when one of his famous dishes never tasted the same.

On 25 April 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng when the city gates were opened by rebel allies from within. During the turmoil, the last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City. Combined with crop failure, floods, and epidemic, the dynasty collapsed before the rebel leader Li Zicheng, who was defeated by the Manchu-led Eight Banner armies who founded the Qing dynasty.

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