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Editorial 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.

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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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Took me to another world

I enjoyed this book completely. Well read. I loved the interspersing of quotes from the old book . Took me to another world Good for some armchair traveling. Prepare to be hungary

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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disappointed

from the reviews I expected a better story. It was ok, worth finishing, but not a great story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Taste Sensation

This is my favorite audiobook in a great while. What captivated me most are the author's sumptuous and learned descriptions of true Chinese cuisine, which is highly sophisticated in its cultural meanings, ingredients, and preparation. The narration is beautifuly realized, and the love story is handled with unusual sensitivity (no soft-porn passages, thankfully). I felt at the end a much greater appreciation for both Chinese culture and its wondrously complex food.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Joy
  • Annapolis MD United States
  • 02-11-14

A lovely and endearing story

I love to cook and I grew up learning the art of Asian cooking from my mother. While this story was not a book filled with recipes, it made me want to head to the kitchen and poach a chicken with ginger and spices and search out recipes of age old imperial Chinese cuisine.
I loved this story and could not put it down. Love, betrayal, friendship, disappointment and the unity of family wove two people's lives together in a heart warming tale. The only reason I did not give it a five star rating was because the ending left me wanting for more. Not that the ending was bad - just not enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very satisfying, like comfort food.

This is one of those audiobooks that I acquired primarily because of the narrator, not the author. (I would gladly listen to Elisabeth Rodgers reading the phone book.) It was a pleasant surprise, then, that the story turned out to be excellent. The Last Chinese Chef was my first Mones experience and her in-depth knowledge of Chinese culture and cuisine was obvious. Being a foodie as well, I caught myself trying to write down the recipes for the different dishes.

Aside from being gastronomic, it was sometimes a bit too gnomic as well. With aphorisms flying left and right you might think that Lao Tzu or Confucious would jump out of the woodwork at any time. I have a number of Chinese friends but I never noticed as much philosophical proclamation as in the book. However, this might be the case in China, or maybe it’s just those Chinese chefs. Move over, Julia!

Kudos to Elisabeth Rodgers for her very convincing Chinese accent. At least I was convinced, but since I do not speak it myself, I will leave final judgment to the Chinese-speaking readers out there.

All in all, it was an excellent and very satisfying read—much like the sumptuous dishes described within. And maybe it’s true what they say about Chinese food—I found myself wanting more just half and hour after finishing the book. I am hoping for seconds from Ms Mones.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • JL
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 02-04-13

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

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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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  • dot
  • Holmes Beach, FL, United States
  • 01-21-13

Loved it!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot about Chinese cuisine in the process! Great story, great narrator!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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It wasn't enough to listen to it

Lovely book: very evocative. Made me realize how impoverished most American eating habits are--plus it should have come with samples!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Gitte
  • ANTIOCH, CA, United States
  • 01-14-13

Excellent story

I really, really enjoyed this audio book, the description of China and all the different delicious descriptions of the food being prepared and the various characters. Loved the story from beginning to end, as well as the performances. The description of the food made me really hungry and wishing I could find some of the foods being described :) I highly recommend this book. I will be reading more from this author, definitely!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful