Book Thirtyseven: The Last Chinese Chef

The Last Chinese Chef, Nicole Mones

It's not that this was a bad book. In fact, it was pretty good. It's just that, at times, it seemed so forced. Like I was always hyper-aware of the story and where it was going, rather than just enjoying the ride. We start the story with Maggie, a recent widow, who discovers that a paternity claim has been filed against her dead husband by a woman in China. Conveniently, she is a food writer and her editor has a story for her to write while she travels to Beijing to sort everything out, about a Chinese-American chef, Sam Liang, who will be competing in a cooking competition to coincide with the 2008 Olympics. The title of the novel comes from a book written by Sam's grandfather, who was an imperial chef and widely recognized as one of the great chefs of Chinese history. Each chapter opens with an excerpt from this (fictional) book, discussing elements of Chinese philosophy, cooking, medicine (yay!) and culture.

Really, what this book should be lauded for, is its descriptions of food. Some of the food described here sounds absolutely astounding and sometimes you can almost taste it. I can't stop thinking about the crab-infused tofu from the final banquet, and, as a dumpling fiend, her descriptions of the jiao zi and bao zi from the restaurant Gou Bu Li made me salivate. As a novel, though, it was just ma ma hu hu (so-so).


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