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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

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Performance
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  •  
    cinderbelle California 12-11-12
    cinderbelle California 12-11-12 Member Since 2011

    zcmcd

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I enjoyed this very much..."
    What did you love best about The Last Chinese Chef?

    I enjoyed the developing friendship between Sam and Maggie. Sam was my favorite character.


    What about Elisabeth Rodgers and James Chen ’s performance did you like?

    I felt Elisabeth Rodgers was by turns, superb/outstanding/exceptionally good, but also fell into a cadence at times that irritated me... Still, I had to give the narration 5 stars because I enjoyed her reading more than most audiobooks I've listened to. James Chen was incredible...


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I was pretty touched throughout the story actually... I particularly enjoyed the last half hour of the book.


    Any additional comments?

    I'm glad I picked this one up... I want to listen to it again...

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ying Austin, TX, United States 07-30-12
    Ying Austin, TX, United States 07-30-12 Member Since 2001
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    "Good read on Chinese cuisine and culture"

    Being a Chinese grew up in China, I highly appreciate this book. The author shows that she does understand and appreciate Chinese culture and its relationship with its cuisine. Very entertaining listen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CK Cole 06-02-12
    CK Cole 06-02-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    4
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    "Didn't Want It to End!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I already have.


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

    The kitchen with his father and uncles all working with him.


    What about Elisabeth Rodgers and James Chen ’s performance did you like?

    Clear and just the right amount of drama.


    If you could rename The Last Chinese Chef, what would you call it?

    For Love of Food and the Stories it Tells


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn Berry Plantation, FL USA 05-29-12
    Lynn Berry Plantation, FL USA 05-29-12 Member Since 2004

    book lover

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    "Wonderful!"
    If you could sum up The Last Chinese Chef in three words, what would they be?

    Part history, part food love story, and part relationship - it was a fascinating voyage to a place I've never been before.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The food was my favorite character - the explanations and descriptions made it come alive and brought all the ancient principles to life.


    Any additional comments?

    It made me hungry - very hungry for Chinese food. The food I ordered had no resemblance to the masterpieces Sam made. I'm still hungry.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cathy Waxhaw, NC, United States 03-06-12
    Cathy Waxhaw, NC, United States 03-06-12 Member Since 2010

    Mamakoz

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Glad I didn't let my reservations stop me"

    From the title I was afraid this would be a story stuck in-between recipes. Fortunately I didn't let that stop me. This was an absolutely terrific book. It not only provided an interesting insight into China, but was enlightening on the 'philosophy' behind Chinese cooking. I look for books that don't fall into a category of "romance" or "mystery", but rather provide an interesting story. This was such a book. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking to enjoy a good story, to learn, and to be swept away by an interesting culture.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin new york, new york, United States 10-20-11
    Robin new york, new york, United States 10-20-11 Member Since 2010

    Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...

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    "i loved this book"

    i have listened to this book a few times already ... it is charming, soulful and performed well. don't hesitate to purchase this one!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Tucson, AZ, United States 02-05-13
    Linda Tucson, AZ, United States 02-05-13

    Sericulturalist and horticulturalist, mad scientist and earth oven baker.

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    "A Tasty Surprise"

    A beautiful book that keeps you guessing until the end. Family, food, and loyalty combine into unexpected possibilities.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Martha La Mesa, CA, United States 02-04-13
    Martha La Mesa, CA, United States 02-04-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Good and very interesting story."

    I really enjoyed the story and learning about Chinese food and some of the Chinese customs. After finishing the book, I was so hungry that I had to go out for Chinese. The pdf with a couple of recipes was pretty neat. I only wish it had more recipes.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JL San Francisco, CA USA 02-04-13
    JL San Francisco, CA USA 02-04-13 Member Since 2004

    Quiltmaker and librarian who loves writing and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

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    "Book Review: The Last Chinese Chef"
    What did you like about this audiobook?

    I love the descriptions of how traditional Chinese cooking separates flavors and textures in dishes, for example. I also thought the idea of meals as community (served family style) was profound. As I worked my way through the book, I began to see links between the stated theories and principles of Chinese cooking *as it is described in the book* and quiltmaking. There is a beauty and meaning to the way Chinese cooking is described, which I do not feel when I enter an American Chinese restaurant.


    How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

    The beginning of every chapter has excerpts from a book called the Last Chinese Chef. I don't know if this a real book, but the passages are evocative and towards the latter part of the book, especially the last chapters, I found my mind forming connections between what the narrator was saying and the Design Series I work on with Sandy. Throughout the book, the characters talk about links between the food and history, literature and poetry. I find this very beautiful.


    Do you have any additional comments?

    I think this might be one of my favorite books. I know I want to listen to it again.I wasn't sure about listening to this book. I don't know who recommended it initially or why I added it. I know I downloaded it, because I didn't know what else to download.I am not am not much of a fan of the premise, but find the food aspect fascinating. I love the descriptions of how traditional Chinese cooking separates flavors and textures in dishes, for example. I also thought the idea of meals as community (served family style) was profound. As I worked my way through the book, I began to see links between the stated theories and principles of Chinese cooking *as it is described in the book* and quiltmaking. There is a beauty and meaning to the way Chinese cooking is described, which I do not feel when I enter an American Chinese restaurant.The beginning of every chapter has excerpts from a book called the Last Chinese Chef. I don't know if this a real book, but the passages are evocative and towards the latter part of the book, especially the last chapters, I found my mind forming connections between what the narrator was saying and the Design Series I work on with Sandy. Throughout the book, the characters talk about links between the food and history, literature and poetry. I find this very beautiful.Maggie's situation is very sad, but seems to be about money and since she has downsized, I have a hard time feeling sorry for her with regard to the suit in China. I do feel sorry for her loss of her husband and think the grief she feels is fairly well described. I( don't think the name is a good one for the character. It doesn't seem to fit the story or her life story.After finishing the whole book, I see the sort of crudeness of the beginning chapters in the description of the suit and China and think that Nicole Mones smooths out the writing in such a way that the reader is soothed as the story goes on.This is a book where I might want to see the words on the page. This book also makes me want to add a section on Aesthetic to the Design series.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Boca Raton, FL 01-30-13
    Amazon Customer Boca Raton, FL 01-30-13 Member Since 2012

    Ellen DeRogatis

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    "I recommend this Book"

    The narration was seamless and pleasant to hear. What could have been a difficult listen - or read for that matter of all of the cooking detail became interesting and enjoyable. I am interested in Chinese custom - and food, and found this book totally enjoyable.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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