I got this one in an Audible sale because it sounded kind of interesting what with a liberal dose of Chinese culture and cuisine featured (according to the reviews). It’s basically a romance and I don’t think I realized that at all when I got it. Not only that but it’s flawed as a work of fiction. Still, for some reason, I wasn’t disappointed – except in the female narrator who just kind of grated at times with too many elongated vowels – and the ending was totally lame. In its defense, The Last Chinese Chef was the only American finalist for the international Kiriyama Prize and also a World Gourmand Award winner in the Chinese cookbook category – even though there are no recipes!
The author, Nicole Mones, writes for Gourmet Magazine and has studied China in depth and in person – especially the food aspects – so there is much authentic information here. That said, her internal source, a very old cookbook, is fictional.
The story-line: Maggie McElroy is a widow and a writer for a food magazine. She is suddenly called to China because her husband, deceased for 5 years, has been named in a paternity suit. As a secondary reason she is given a writing assignment about a specific up-and-coming Chinese-American chef named Sam. Sam cooks in the very old-fashioned “Imperial” style which has recently become permitted if not popular. He’s also a finalist in a cooking contest and has to prepare for that.
Sam gives Maggie the “The Last Chef,” a cookbook written by his grandfather and then another written work by his father. These give a great background in Chinese cuisine through the 20th century (pre-Communism and Communism) but they never really mesh with the rest of the book very well. There is much more than cooking in the book and recipes are not included because those have to be taught hands-on. Recipes are included as a resource for readers however and these are available as downloadable pdfs from Audible if you’re listening.
I’m not sure what it was that was so compelling about this book – the plot of Maggie finding out if the child is her husband’s is interesting as is the cooking and background. It’s not that great of a book but I must have been in the mood for something light and exotic – ?