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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

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

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What I needed to hear

I listened to this book during a critical transition phase in my life learning to deal with a loss. The story was soothing and I was comfortably reflective listening to it. A good book with realistic characters that a listener will feel connected to. I also felt a deep connection to China and its history listening to the descriptions of values and cultures.

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Great story and performance.

I wanted to listen to this straight through. The cadence was great, the historical commentary on both food and politics were perfect. I really cant think of a way to improve on the entire experience.

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great food but predictable love story

What did you like best about The Last Chinese Chef? What did you like least?

The descriptions of cooking and food were fascinating. The story itself was not. It was formulaic and predictable, and mildly entertaining.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Predictable.

What three words best describe Elisabeth Rodgers and James Chen ’s voice?

Elisabeth Rodgers's voice is a bit depressing and flat. James Chen's voice is more interesting and engaging.

Was The Last Chinese Chef worth the listening time?

It was OK. At first, I wasn't going to finish it but I got hooked on the food.

  • Overall

Good flow to story

Story told well. The interplay of different narrators was good. Helped me to appreciate the basis and culture behind Chinese cuisine

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  • girorv
  • montreal, QC, Canada
  • 01-05-15

Yummy !

First of all , let me admit , that I am a foodie. When my husband found out this book was about a food writer and a chef, he lost all interest. Is being a foodie a requirement ? No I don't think so. I, thoroughly enjoyed it. The atmosphere set out by the author successfully transported me to China. The characters were developed enough that I was easily able to buy into the story. The narrators did a marvelous job of putting me in the scene. All in all a good story.

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Interesting but...

It was an okay story but a good performance. I listened to it completely but I did get bored a few times.

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me or the book??

It was the book. I wanted to like this - but I just couldn't. It was so boring, I couldn't even get into any of the characters.

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learning about China

A very good introduction to the way life and food unfolds in China. It brought me a lot of nostalgy, for we used to live there for three years....

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  • Mark
  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA, United States
  • 06-22-14

The Chinese words pronunciations were cringing

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Someone who didn't really care if the Chinese words were pronounced closed enough. It was hard to ignore or guess the off tone pronunciations when so many Chinese words were used to convey the emotions and the cuisine.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

About food.

Would you be willing to try another one of Elisabeth Rodgers and James Chen ’s performances?

Yes, if there are no Chinese words pronunciations in the reading.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The story about Chinese cuisine.

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  • Alison
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 12-21-13

A nice surprise...

What did you love best about The Last Chinese Chef?

I picked this book up because it was part of a sale event. I had low expectations because I sometimes find it hard to follow books set in Asia and spanning multiple generations. This book was easy to get into, had interesting storylines and characters, and I found myself looking forward to the chances I'd get to listen. You can see the ending coming a mile away, but even though you're progressing toward a known outcome, the journey is fun. And as a bonus: now I'm curious to try some legit Chinese food!