The Last Chinese Chef
By Nicole Mones
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618619665, 288pp.)
Publication Date: May 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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.
NICOLE MONES is the author of the New York Times Notable Book Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light. She started a textile business in China at the end of the Cultural Revolution and ran it for eighteen years, and she brings to her fiction writing an in-depth understanding of China and its culture. Mones is a frequent contributor to Gourmet magazine, which ran an excerpt of The Last Chinese Chef—marking the first time Gourmet has ever published fiction in its pages. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
1. In the beginning of the book, Maggie has tried to deal with her husband's death shrinking "her life to a pinpoint." She disconnects from people and seems to be trying to make her world and herself smaller and smaller. When you suffered a loss in your life, did you also feel like withdrawing from the world? If you didn't, how did you feel? And if you did, how did you find your way back?
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.
"Mones, a contributor to Gourmet, paints a stunning picture of a country caught between tradition and modern life. Grade: A-" - Entertainment Weekly 15MinutesMagazine.com
"It doesn't seem quite fair for a writer to be as skilled at genre hopping as Nicole Mones" -Seattle Times 15MinutesMagazine.com
"Mones has crafted an entertaining and erudite novel cleverly interspersed with mouthwatering details on one of the world’s greatest cuisines" - Northwest Aisian Times