The Last Chinese Chef
By Nicole Mones
A Book Review by Ginger Dawn Harman
Recently, my local library book club was given each a copy on loan to read and discuss, The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. We each were hooked from the start of the novel as we were introduced to the character Maggie. Newly widowed, workaholic Maggie McElroy is a columnist for Table magazine living on a boat in California. She discovers that her husband, a lawyer and frequent traveler to China for business, had an affair and possibly fathered his mistress’s child. Maggie must travel to Beijing to deal with a paternity claim, as well as the emotional consequences of her husband’s infidelity. However, there was much change to come for Maggie as she is introduced to Sam Liang whom she will interview. Sam is opening a restaurant in Beijing; he’s also translating his grandfather’s 1925 food classic, “The Last Chinese Chef,” into English. This introduction offers a bit of a friendship for Maggie and for Sam.
|NPR interview with Nicole Mones|
Mones’ novel is a fast paced read with lots of imagery and wisdom. Many in my book club were able to relate to the character Maggie. One member in particular, who recently lost her husband found this novel a door to open up about her own grief. Furthermore, there was much discussion on the theme of how we each have our own private stories that are often not shared with the ones we love. This was brought out as Sam received an email from his father as to why he was not able to travel back to China.
I personally found the history of food and healing intriguing as Sam shared the stories of the ancient chefs. I find that in today’s society that we often do not appreciate each flavor or the meaning behind the dishes. I liked the quote,
“Yuan Mei, one of China’s great gourmets, once asked his cook why, since he was so gifted and could produce great delicacies from even the most common ingredients, he chose to stay in their relatively modest household. The cook said, “To find an employer who appreciates one is not easy. But to find one who understands anything about cookery is harder still. So much imagination and hard thinking go into the making of every dish that one may well say I serve up along with it my whole mind and heart.”
This is true when one puts their soul into their passion, it will have more meaning.
My only complaint about The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is that it was very predictable. However, Mones captures the relationship dynamics very well with her writing. This is a well written novel that provides insight into Chinese culture, hints of interpersonal wisdom, and cuisine. I very much enjoyed The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones.