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The Last Chinese Chef [Hardcover]

Nicole Mones
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)


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Book Description

May 4, 2007 0618619666 978-0618619665 First Edition
This alluring novel of friendship, love, and cuisine brings the best-selling author of Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light to one of the great Chinese subjects: food. As in her previous novels, Mones’s captivating story also brings into focus a changing China -- this time the hidden world of high culinary culture.

When Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, learns of a Chinese paternity claim against her late husband’s estate, she has to go immediately to Beijing. She asks her magazine for time off, but her editor counters with an assignment: to profile the rising culinary star Sam Liang.

In China Maggie unties the knots of her husband’s past, finding out more than she expected about him and about herself. With Sam as her guide, she is also drawn deep into a world of food rooted in centuries of history and philosophy. To her surprise she begins to be transformed by the cuisine, by Sam’s family -- a querulous but loving pack of cooks and diners -- and most of all by Sam himself. The Last Chinese Chef is the exhilarating story of a woman regaining her soul in the most unexpected of places.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nicole Mones has mined the endless riches of China once again in The Last Chinese Chef. This time she hits the trifecta: the personal stories of Sam and Maggie, the history and lore of Chinese cuisine, and an inside look at cultural dislocation. Maggie McElroy is a widowed American food writer who is suddenly confronted with a paternity claim against her late husband's estate--by a Chinese family. Her editor offers her another reason to go to Beijing: write an article about a rising young Chinese-American-Jewish chef, Sam Liang. Having sold the home she had with her late husband Matt and reduced her possessions to only the barest necessities, with her life feeling as though it is contracting around her, Maggie embraces the oppportunity to sort out her feelings about Matt's supposed infidelity and do some work at the same time.

She and Sam hit it off right away, even though he is involved in a very important competition for a place on the Chinese national cooking team for the 2008 Olympics. They travel together to the south of China where she meets her husband's possible daughter--with Sam standing by to act as translator--and where Maggie meets much of Sam's family. He has been welcomed back with open arms, even though he occasionally feels that he has one foot in China and one in Ohio. The Beijing uncles and the Hangzhou uncle are a raucous, loving, argumentative bunch of foodies who advise Sam about menus, encourage a romance with Maggie, make him start over again when the dish isn't perfect, and alternately praise and criticize his cooking.

Maggie loves being in the middle of it all and finds herself more and more drawn to Sam. She begins, with Sam's help, to see food as "healing" and understands the guanxi or "connectedness" that takes place around food. At the beginning of each chapter is a paragraph taken from a book entitled The Last Chinese Chef, written by Sam's grandfather and translated by Sam and his father. Mones has written that book, too, which is an explanation of the place of food in Chinese history and family life. The novel is rich with meaning and lore and an examination of loving relationships. Don't even touch this book when you're hungry. The descriptions make the aromas and textures float right off the page. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

A recently widowed American food writer finds solace and love—and the most inspiring food she's ever encountered—during a visit to China in Mones's sumptuous latest. Still reeling from husband Matt's accidental death a year ago, food writer Maggie McElroy is flummoxed when a paternity claim is filed against Matt's estate from Beijing, where he sometimes traveled for business. Before Maggie embarks on the obligatory trip to investigate, her editor assigns her a profile on Sam Liang, a half-Chinese American chef living in Beijing who is about to enter a prestigious cooking competition. Sam's old-school recipes and history lessons of high Chinese cuisine kick-start Maggie's dulled passion for food and help her let go of her grief, even as she learns of Matt's Beijing bed hopping. Though the narrative can get bogged down in the minutiae of Chinese culinary history (filtered through the experiences of Sam's family), Mones's descriptions of fine cuisine are tantalizing, and her protagonist's quest is bracing and unburdened by melodrama. Early in her visit, Maggie scoffs at the idea that "food can heal the human heart." Mones smartly proves her wrong. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (May 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618619666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618619665
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #822,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Watch the NIGHT IN SHANGHAI trailer at www.nicolemones.com

A newly launched textile business took Nicole Mones to China for the first time in 1977, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. As an individual she traded textiles with China for eighteen years before she turned to writing about that country. Her novels The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light are in print in twenty languages and have received multiple juried prizes, including the Kafka Prize (year's best work of fiction by any American woman) and Kiriyama Prize (finalist; for the work of fiction which best enhances understanding of any Pacific Rim Culture).

From 1999-2008 Mones wrote about Chinese cuisine for Gourmet magazine. Her nonfiction writing on China has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. She is a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
135 of 142 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite May 31, 2007
Format:Hardcover
There are certain times where I feel a certain condescension when I read foreigners trying to read meanings and poetry into what I feel is my domain as a person of Chinese ancestry. This isn't one of those times. In fact I feel humbled and delighted by the lessons that Nicole Mones was able to impart upon me.

It is rare that I get up from a book about China so totally enthralled and educated from a tome written by a yang ren, a foreigner. This book is the second book that has made me feel this way in the last few years. The first was Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present by Peter Hessler, it was a non-fictional observation about China and the impact that globalization has had on Chinese society. This book is a work of fiction, by virtue of that fact, it was able to draw me further into all that it had to convey: on being Chinese, on the complicated intertwining of Chinese food culture and general culture, on the meaning of guanxi, on the wonders of Chinese cuisine.

I had always felt that due to the unsavory nature of Chinese-American food as it is, that the true nature of Chinese cuisine has never been fully unleashed on the American palate. I have stewed on the fact that the French and Italian cuisines rank so much higher on the sophistication scale of the American gastronome versus the lowly Chinese cuisine. I felt it but I was unable to express it adequately. Nicole Mones has done this and more with this story.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Nicole Mones delivers a languid, sumptuous story about an American widow, Maggie McElroy, who journeys to China to find out whether a child born there to another woman was fathered by her late husband. She also has an assignment to write an article on a Chinese/Jewish-American chef, Sam Liang, who is descended from a line of venerable masters of cuisine and to whom Maggie gradually,sweetly grows close.

The reader is immersed in the lives of those Maggie meets, in the essences of Chinese culture and familial bonds, and in the meaning of food and the culinary arts there. Often whilst reading, one can almost breathe in tempting aromas of dishes being prepared in bustling Chinese kitchens. But although succulent meals can be vicariously savored regularly in THE LAST CHINESE CHEF, and food is arguably at the heart of the novel, Mones doesn't scrimp on plot or on presenting believable and very different human characters, all of whom share one bounty: every person is basically decent and kind (not a ready characteristic of much current literature). No character leaves a dastardly or incorrigible impression when all is said and done. Indeed, the reader is left with a halcyon -- though perhaps an overly optimistic -- feeling that everything works for good, even if fate isn't immediately favorable.

Four and a half stars for a luscious feast of a book that radiates a love for China, its people, and its delectable cooking traditions.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't stop talking about this book... May 14, 2007
Format:Hardcover
This book combines everything worthy in this world, good food, tender love and the warmth of family and place that touch your heart. Anyone who's "in love" with China would know the crazy feeling that enfolds you and everything becomes surreal and every sense is heightened.

This book captures that feeling and more...the characters are so real and believable that the moment the characters finally come together, it's something you've been rooting for all along. You want him to win, you want her to heal her heart...you want them together. When she thinks of staying in China forever, you tell her, yes, go on!!!

You read the culinary history excepts of Liang Wei with just as much intensity and you feel yourself drawn into a world that you wish you knew or as Sam feels, needs to be connected to...to be whole. The conversations he has with his uncles are some of the liveliest parts of the book....family ties you wish you had following you around the kitchen.

You don't need to love Chinese food or be a culinary history buff, this book is that good. But I guarantee you'll become one afterwards. You'll want another book to continue because the stories are so rich and there's still so much more we want to experience and *taste*!!! Did I mention all the luscious food, you'll never look at wonton soup the same way again...
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Predictable December 27, 2010
Format:Paperback
I enjoy reading about food and cooking, and I also very much enjoy reading about other cultures. Therefore, I was relishing the premise of this novel, but I was a little let down. The sections that focused on the food and culture of China were very interesting, although I don't know how truthful they are. The main plot of the story, however, was quite predictable and a bit melodramatic at times. This is a good "beach read" type of book, but pretty fluffy and predictable overall.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars China brought to your heart and belly May 9, 2007
Format:Hardcover
This story provides a wonderful peek into "guanxi" -- the Chinese concept of relationships. And food is at the heart of Chinese relationships. For example, unlike in America where food is individually plated, all meals are shared in China. Food there is a presentation of symbols, suggestions and references, connecting people not only to one another but to their culture, art, and history (p. 164).

The love story that develops along this culinary back drop is tender and believable. The book made me look at basic every day interactions with friends and family as an opportunity for gentler, more sensitive exchanges.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
The plot is varied enough to satisfy the foodie as well as the romantic.
Published 10 days ago by Pat Dow
4.0 out of 5 stars don't read this on an empty stomach
A mouth-watering journey through relationships. Food as fuel has no part in this discourse; rather poetry and love and family are explored through the connections made at communal... Read more
Published 12 days ago by D. Weiss
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique Food experience
Very unique book. It gives you an insight and perspective on Chinese thought s about food that you would never know otherwise. Very enlightening.
Published 15 days ago by kelvingal
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
As soon as I finished this book, I looked for others by the same author. The story sticks with you.
Published 20 days ago by PVLee
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable
I love to cook particular Chinese food so having some historical background and insights made this book even much enjoyable than I had thought! Read more
Published 22 days ago by Humana
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
An American woman in China in search of a fabled chef. If you like Chinese food, and a good story, this is for you.
Published 26 days ago by Noel Rappe
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind expanding
Food, history, culture, love, tradition ... all come together in this wonderful novel. Beautifully written, highly evocative, a terrific read. Read more
Published 28 days ago by JCKB
5.0 out of 5 stars Saving and sharing the Chinese culture of foods and love.
This story about a young chinese man learning and continuing his family's traditional cooking style and often unusual ingredients was fascinating. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Patricia C.
4.0 out of 5 stars Hungry
I was hungry through the entire book! It was an enticing tutorial on traditional Imperial Chinese cooking and Chinese history, as well as an excellent story to go along with it.
Published 1 month ago by BK
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story
As a tourist, I've only experience a little of "real China." This book makes me want to go back and eat my way around the country. Read more
Published 2 months ago by S Kerr
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