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The Last Chinese Chef | [Nicole Mones]

The Last Chinese Chef

When recently widowed Maggie McElroy is called to China to settle a claim against her late husbands estate, she is blindsided by the discovery that he may have led a double life. Since work is all that will keep her sane, her magazine editor assigns her to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American who is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. As she watches Sam gear up for Chinas Olympic culinary competition by planning the banquet of a lifetime, she begins to see past the cuisines artistry to glimpse its coherent expression of Chinese civilization.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Food writer Nicole Mones has spent 18 years traveling to China, so it's fair to say that when she writes about a food writer who spends two weeks in China, Mones is up to the task. Although the novel contains no actual recipes, it won a World Gourmand Award in the category of Chinese cookbook. Such is the extent to which Chinese food is the thread that holds this story together. Cutting a clear path through the forest of noodles is narrator Elisabeth Rodgers, giving voice to the metaphor that extends from cooking to loving with a refreshingly crisp negotiation of the Chinese language.

The food writer in the story is a widow on a mission to determine if her late husband fathered a child by some other woman during his work in China. Since she may as well do some work while waiting for the paternity test results, Maggie profiles Sam, a competitive cooking descendant of the famous chef who authored the canonical kitchen text The Last Chef. Each chapter begins with a short excerpt from this mythic cookbook that relates as much about Chinese sociology as it does about the value of pork fat, read by the always delightful James Chen, whose voice unfortunately pops up only in these opening bits.

Foodies will find a treasure trove of practical information on the unjustifiable undervaluing of Chinese cuisine, and all listeners will enjoy some extended lessons on the cultural traditions that can heal lonely hearts. Rodgers is terrifically funny as Sam's uptight uncles, as well as the enigmatic lawyer and translator who assist Maggie with her husband's estate. Mones has written her third paean to Chinese virtues, and whatever you may make of the legal drama or the love story, you will never look at a takeout menu the same way again. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

In her satisfying, sensual third novel, Nicole Mones takes readers inside the hidden world of elite cuisine in modern China through the story of an American food writer in Beijing. When recently widowed Maggie McElroy is called to China to settle a claim against her late husband's estate, she is blindsided by the discovery that he may have led a double life. Since work is all that will keep her sane, her magazine editor assigns her to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American who is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. As she watches Sam gear up for Chinas Olympic culinary competition by planning the banquet of a lifetime, she begins to see past the cuisines artistry to glimpse its coherent expression of Chinese civilization. It is here, amid lessons of tradition, obligation, and human connection that she finds the secret ingredient that may yet heal her heart.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2008 Nicole Mones (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"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." (Amazon.com review)
"Early in her visit, Maggie scoffs at the idea that 'food can heal the human heart.' Mones smartly proves her wrong." (Publishers Weekly)

"Elisabeth Rodgers delivers the novel with verve. James Chen narrates the chapter openings, which are quotes from a revered ancient tome on Chinese food preparation and philosophy. Cookery lore; subtle aromas and flavors; bold colors and textures all vie with story elements that focus on culture and family to keep listeners fully engaged." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (501 )
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4.1 (352 )
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4.2 (349 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (9)
Performance
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  •  
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 09-12-11
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 09-12-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Totally Satisfying - highly recommended"

    I am not one to wax eloquent over most books - but this is one of the exceptions. A great story - especially if you are a foodie and interested in China. Beautifully written - very engaging - as it moves between characters, time frames, and focus. The descriptions of cooking and eating are very fun. The narration is excellent. I highly recommend this book.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim United States 12-20-12
    Tim United States 12-20-12 Member Since 2010

    I use my left foot to type my reviews.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    650
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    357
    353
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    Story
    "Kind of Suprising"

    I'm kind of surprised that I enjoyed "The Last Chinese Chef." I was expecting a love, romantic story and wasn't thrill to listen to it, but as I got more into the story, I liked it and couldn't wait for more. Instead of listening about a man and a woman falling for each other, I learned so much more about the Chinese culture and how their food is a staple of who they are. The book is written well. As you follow the characters, you start to understand the Asian culture more by respecting their food as if it was art. The cooking competition over shadows the romance between the two main characters.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrea LARAMIE, WY, United States 01-07-13
    Andrea LARAMIE, WY, United States 01-07-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    14
    5
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    "A lovely read a romantic foody"
    What did you love best about The Last Chinese Chef?

    The use of language! Mones use of verbs and descriptors made this food/mystery/romance palatable. Since listening to it we have been on a Chinese food cooking jag.


    What does Elisabeth Rodgers and James Chen bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Beautifully read. One of the best readings we have heard! Lovely intonation, never over done or flat.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Yes, we laughed. It brought back many memories for my husband.


    Any additional comments?

    We have already shared our love of this novel with friends

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elisabeth Durham, NC, United States 02-06-13
    Elisabeth Durham, NC, United States 02-06-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Adored The Last Chinese Chef"

    I love a novel in which I learn about an interesting subject wrapped in a compelling story. The Last Chinese Chef does all that quite well. I was fascinated to learn about the importance of food in the Chinese culture and how differently the Chinese view the experience of eating than do westerners. Simultaneously, I couldn't wait to find out what was happening with Mones' well wrought two main characters as their parallel stories intertwined. Mones successfully brings together the experience of an American writer looking for closure re her husband's life and sudden death and the experience of a Chinese-American Chef competing in a national competition as a lead up to the Beijing Olympics. A fun and different novel.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna CHAMPAIGN, IL, United States 09-01-12
    Donna CHAMPAIGN, IL, United States 09-01-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    "Delectable!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    If you want to listen to something soothing, refreshing and that will just make you feel warm and cozy, this is the one


    Any additional comments?

    So nice to read a simple romance with so much heart.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gina Gwinn, MI, United States 08-20-12
    Gina Gwinn, MI, United States 08-20-12 Listener Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A charming mix of history, tradition and eating."
    Where does The Last Chinese Chef rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    It was one of my favorites and I'll listen to it again. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from the "Last Chinese Chef" she is writing about are worth paying attention to. The cadence of the narrator never varied, for all circumstances, which distracted from the story a bit, but not much. If you love food, you'll love learning about the rich history and traditions of the Chinese. A wonderful book, easy to listen to, heartwarming and educational.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Last Chinese Chef?

    The intermingling of food, culture, tradition and family.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    Alter her cadence.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    She Piney Point, MD, United States 02-15-11
    She Piney Point, MD, United States 02-15-11 Member Since 2005

    Bookaholic. Favorite authors- Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A Heinlein.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very enjoyable"

    Fun story, enjoyable listen. Wish this had been published before my visit to China as it contains very interesting insight into China and Chinese Food. Only one caution, listening to this story may make you hungry :-)

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Longview, TX, United States 07-18-13
    Linda Longview, TX, United States 07-18-13 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting view of Chinese Culture"

    The plot is fairly simple, yet enjoyable. The plot and bi-cultural background of the male character provides a good vehicle for exploring Chinese versus American culture. The romantic interest is pleasing.

    I'm not a cook or "food-ie" but found this story interesting and educational. I will probably re-listen at some future date to absorb more of the history and cultural details.

    The performance is well done. It seemed a little stilted the first few minutes, but either that changed or I became accustomed to the reader.

    A good use of a credit.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura Shears Gold River, CA USA 01-21-13
    Laura Shears Gold River, CA USA 01-21-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Beautiful"
    Any additional comments?

    The plot was unusual and really drew me in. I was sad when it ended!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine Mercer Island, WA, United States 12-18-12
    Catherine Mercer Island, WA, United States 12-18-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Awesome! Philosophy of Chinese Cooking"

    Loved this book! Fine story and writing, and really neat descriptions of food and fascinating information on the Chinese philosophy about the properties of food and how the top chefs interested in the imperial style strive to complement and balance the perfect banquet.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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  • Rogayah
    Reading, United Kingdom
    5/6/12
    Overall
    "Yum yum"

    I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. It has all the ingredients of an excellent read - a gripping story - what happens next? It is a sad story - a man dies, the grieving widow becomes a heroine and we learn a lot about China and its cuisine. The narrators have served up an excellent mixture of past and present.

    If you are interested in food, especially Chinese food, in China and its history and in a good yarn do buy this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Thomas
    London, United Kingdom
    11/21/11
    Overall
    "Good, not great"

    This is a reasonably good book. The characters are believable and engaging and the description is quite vivid. I found the narrator a bit bland - she didn't add a great deal. The other thing I found was that the description of the food was a bit monotonous. Everything was the most wonderful thing she'd ever eaten. It would have made for a believable story, and made it easier for the reader to empathise if there'd been a few nice things, a few not so good, as there are for most people discovering a cuisine. But still a decent book, engaging plot and not badly written

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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