The Last Chinese Chef
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The Last Chinese Chef

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  4,649 ratings  ·  1,056 reviews
This alluring novel of friendship, love, and cuisine brings the best-selling author of Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light to one of the great Chinese subjects: food. As in her previous novels, Mones’s captivating story also brings into focus a changing China -- this time the hidden world of high culinary culture.

When Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, lear...more
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published May 4th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Chocolat by Joanne HarrisLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelGreen Eggs and Ham by Dr. SeussCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Food-Related Fiction
30th out of 334 books — 425 voters
Chocolat by Joanne HarrisThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica BauermeisterLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelMy Life in France by Julia ChildJulie and Julia by Julie Powell
Nouvelle Cuisine
21st out of 294 books — 171 voters

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Aug 24, 2007 Sari rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
This is an amazing book and one of the best books I've read all year.

As someone who has limited cooking skills and who is even less adventurous with new food than your average five year old - trust me when I say that this book has made me want to try a world of new things.

Maggie is a widow who writes for Table Magazine. Her husband died a year ago in a sudden accident and she's just found out that a claim has been filed against his estate in China, where he frequently traveled for work. A pater...more
The story goes down like steamed chow mein: Soft and amiable, with nothing too heavy to chew on. Before I realized it, I had finished over half the book. I just kept shoving the words in my brain without stopping to ponder them.

The Last Chinese Chef satisfies the Recommended Daily Allowance of insight into China's culinary traditions. In fact, it contains abundant, nearly toxic levels of Chinese food descriptions, all punctuated by our heroine Maggie gloating about how incredible it tastes. Thi...more
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Sep 07, 2011 Hannah rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Hannah by: Jeannette
Shelves: 2011-reads
Very enjoyable read about the history and culture of Chinese cuisine, which I knew almost nothing about. Unlike Western culture, the Chinese have a very different take on food, it's preparation and presentation. The subtle but important nuances of their cuisine reveal aspects of their political structure, their fine arts, their history, their religion and their reverence to family. This part was fascinating to read about, and the backstories provided an informative and engaging peek into that wo...more
a very quick read, a bit of fluff and not very deep.

maybe i'm a total asshole cynic, but i'm often turned off by sentences like this (last sentence of the summary on the back), "It is here, amid lessons of tradition, obligation, and human connection that she finds the secret ingredient that may yet heal her heart." ok, it's the last 3 words. ugh.

the only part that kept me interested were the descriptions and talk about chinese food, and honestly, it wasn't that enlightening for me. maybe cause i...more
The blurbs on the cover and the reviews give you just about everything you need to know about this book going in--it's a combination of mystery/drama and culinary guide to Chinese food. It's a solid book, but given the level of ambition here I felt like I needed a bit more from it. The setup is somewhere between postmodern and magic realist, but the prose is not quite equal to either subgenre. My problem with the novel is this: as trade market novels go it's quite good, but there's potential for...more
Antoaneta Mitrusheva
Чудесна книга! Макар и сюжетът да не е нищо особено и по-скоро да е използван, за да бъде поднесена информацията за китайската кухня, това лесно може да бъде преглътнато, при положение, че с всяка следваща страница научаваш нещо ново - абсолютно непознато и интригуващо, като отношението към готвенето, храната, споделянето и традициите в Китай.
Книгата е написана с изключителна грижа, внимание към детайла, куп проучвания и любов към храната.
I've never been a great fan of Chinese food. Now I understand why: I've never eaten Chinese food, only some poor hybrid cousin that is is ubiquitous at strip malls and shopping center food courts from Paris, Texas to Paris, France. I might have come close to the real thing a few years ago in Chinatown, San Francisco, but I think cooking as Mones described can only be found in China...

Mones introduced me to a sublime and seductive world of Chinese cuisine that left me trembling with desire for Po...more
I liked this book on so many levels, because the book itself was so many stories. I felt an immediate attachment to Sam and Maggie and the people that made up their circle of family. I love the descriptions of cooking and eating and the different levels of experiencing of both. Just everything about this book was very satisfying.
Mar 09, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese cookery
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: browsing shelves of my local bookstore
Shelves: china, fiction, food
Her husband died a year ago in a random street accident while on a business trip. Since that time, Maggie McElroy has been dealing with grief. They had no children – her decision. They both had demanding jobs requiring frequent travel. He was a lawyer. She is a food writer. Then, Maggie receives a call from one of her husband's colleagues, based in Beijing. A Chinese woman has filed a paternity suit and she needs to travel to China to obtain a DNA sample from the child. The narrative up to this...more
Madhulika Liddle
Maggie McElroy, food writer and newly widowed, is swamped by grief for her husband Matt - dead in a car accident - when she receives some startling news from a colleague of Matt's in Beijing: a Chinese woman has filed a claim for paternity, saying that her little daughter is Matt's. Maggie, shocked and betrayed, has no option but to go to China to sort out this mess and verify if little Shuying is indeed Matt's or not. But when Maggie's editor at Table magazine discovers about this trip, she mak...more
This book was written by the same author as Lost In Translation, Nicole Mones
I really liked this book about a woman who is widowed when her husband is run over by a car when is is on a buisness trip to San francisco.
She is a food writer and travels often herself. They agreed to never have children, and yet he starts to feel differently, and pressures her to reconsider.
He had traveled often to China on business with his law firm. One of the partners from the China office calls to tell her that th...more
Nicole Mones writes wonderful descriptions of food. Which is not surprising, given her 'day job' is writing for Gourmet magazine. I learned about classical Chinese cuisine, the philosophy behind Chinese cooking methods, and got hungry for many of the dishes she elaborated.
But beyond that - it was pretty standard chick-lit fare. The first two chapters set up our protagonists: Maggie the food writer, who has emotionally closed in on herself since her husband died a year ago, and Sam, the Chinese-A...more
One of the main characters, Sam, talks about the striving for simplicity of Chinese food. The Chinese chef should put so many layers into their food that to the observer, the food, like tofu, looks simply like tofu, but when they bite into it, they realize that what is seemingly simple, is very complex and surprising.

Mones surprises with her layers of subplots that will appeal to more than one kind of reader. There's the story of Maggie, recently widowed and in China to address a paternity suit...more
Because Nicole Mones was/is a writer for Gourmet Magazine, I fully expected beautifully tantalizing textual food to tempt me off the path of my diet. This book delivers in spades-- with the added benefit of being incredibly, emotionally TRUE to what it means to cook and eat Chinese food. This is the Chinese food I grew up with and the Chinese food that I cook. This is food that I have never really been able to verbally articulate to my Western friends, being forced to instead fall back to cookin...more
Pamela Pickering
Sep 29, 2008 Pamela Pickering rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ann, Sanley, Valerie, all you foodies out there
A treasure! "Food was always to be shared...The high point of every meal was never the food itself, he taught us, but always the act of sharing it." One of my favorite things to read about is cultural diversity. This was a wonderful story that describes culture through food and its preparation with an extra dollop of a blooming romance. I am not one to like the philosophical passages some books place at the beginning of their chapters but I found these passages in the story quite insightful and...more
Apr 01, 2013 Barbara rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Barbara by: Public library book group
Shelves: asia, cooking-baking
This was an entertaining little book, but it fell short for me. I do love to cook, to travel and to eat a broad variety of "ethnic" foods, but reading this book often felt like reading a cookbook and carefully studying each ingredient as I plodded along. Mones clearly demonstrated her broad knowledge of Chinese culture and cuisine. She often imparted some new item of information for me about Asian history, intellect and the importance of culinary arts and food sources for these people.

The charac...more
Jun 17, 2008 Toni rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lynne
A fascinating look into the Chinese culture, especially regarding the importance of food - and not just eating food, but the whole "guanxi" or relationship of the bonds between those who prepare the food and those who partake of it.

Yes, this is a novel, and a major component of the book is the story of newly widowed Maggie as she comes to terms with her husband's death and his possible betrayal of her, which in turn becomes her reason to travel to China. Her assignment as a food writer to inter...more
I read 'Lost in Translation' long enough ago now to have forgotten most of the details, and having only the mist of the story drifting in my memory, so when I began "Last Chef", I was expecting explorations in human relationships and personal truths. These are present, in spades, but I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that these are subsumed underneath, around, and within the more prominant story which is the relationship that Chinese have with their food, and how deeply and thickly st...more
This was an interesting history of Chinese cooking and Chinese Empires however I didn't enjoy the love story or even believe in it. I see on Amazon most people loved this book so I feel out of step but my main criticism is that I dont' feel it was well written. I couldn't get past that
Rachel Neumeier
Okay, CHEF is definitely more on the literary side of romance. There’s nothing neat or quick about it, and very little pat about the ending. In some ways it barely seems like a romance, but I think that’s just in contrast to, say, Laura Florand, whose books I've been reading recently.

In CHEF, the main protagonist, Maggie McElroy, is a widow — her husband died a year ago — who is suddenly faced with a surprise: a paternity claim made by a Chinese family against her late husband’s estate.

I think m...more
Book Concierge
Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, is still trying to overcome her grief at her husband’s death in a hit-and-run accident, when she is stunned by a call from his law firm’s satellite office in Beijing. There is a paternity claim against her husband’s estate, and Maggie needs to go to Beijing to convince the child’s mother to agree to a DNA test. Immersing herself in work is what has helped her deal with her grief, so she is distressed when she tells her editor she will need to be go...more
Nikki Broadwell
Dec 05, 2011 Nikki Broadwell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys fantasy and a few who don't.
I've read "Lost in Translation" as well as "A Cup of Light" and although I really enjoyed "The Last Chinese Chef", I didn't like it as well as the other two. That said, Nicole Mones is a wonderful writer. I had a little e-mail exchange with her after I read the book because the main character, a woman in her forties, talks of feeling old--it seemed implausible to me since I don't remember having those thoughts at that age--and yet I know many do. Nicole was very gracious to discuss this with me...more
I really enjoyed this. It was a lovely read and it truly opened my eyes to the complexity and nuances of Chinese cuisine. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it has so much history and meaning attached to it given China's extensive history and rich culture but I was and this has definitely whetted my appetite when it comes to that. I'd love to learn more about the Chinese culinary world now.

By the end of the novel, I felt that I had really grown to care about these characters and their lives...more
This book is filled with mouth-watering descriptions of Chinese food: tastes, textures, appearances, and smells. I felt the stories moved slowly at first, although they picked up at the end. I've read quite a few novels set during the post-1949 revolution, so was waiting for a death-defying escape by the father of one of the main characters. I was a little disappointed that that never happened. I also thought Sam's character could have been developed better. He's supposed to be half-Jewish, but...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
The author also wrote Lost in Translation which was made into a hollywood film starring Scarlett Johanssen and the comedian Bill Murray. I don't remember the story of that film [I haven't read the book:], but I recall it starting with a close up of Ms. Johanssen's butt, that it was set in Japan, that Bill Murray was much older than Ms. Johanssen, and all throughout the film I've been wondering if the two will ever get to have sex [they didn't as far as I recall:].

This book's setting is in China....more
I love this book. I checked it out at the library, read it over the weekend, and promptly got on Amazon and bought it. I only barely resisted just leaving for China to eat.
I love books that revel in food. I also love reading about China. The Last Chinese Chef has both, what an indulgance.
From the first line - "Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine?" I was totally absorbed. I loved the (fictional) quotes from an Imperial Chef, I was fascinated by the complicated inte...more
Dec 30, 2008 L rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: topreads
As I read "The Last Chinese Chef" I craved every dish described, begged my husband to go out to Chinese food, spent tons of money at Uwajimaya on all sorts of noodles and spices and sauces that I can't read let alone know what to do with, got a really fancy rice cooker for Christmas, and am now trying to figure out how to use cleavers. One dish in particular, in which the chef works the skin off of a whole chicken in one piece and then stuffs the skin with sliced vegetables, pork, and other meat...more
By the author of Lost in Translation (loved the film, didn't read the book), who has obviously spent a lot of time in Asia. Her knowledge is meticulous (or at least I assume it is as my knowledge of Beijing and Chinese cooking is nonexistent), and the story is ok, not exactly compelling but I'm still reading it, and the writing is fine, she's no Steinbeck but she's not Dan Brown either. not sure if I'll end up liking it, but I'm pretty sure I'll be going out for Chinese soon. Okay so its not the...more
Sep 23, 2009 Aaliyah rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone that has a love of China for sure!
Recommended to Aaliyah by: No one
I finally got to purchase this book while visiting here in the states. I loved every moment in this book and appreciated the time the author, Nicole Mones, took to ensure accuracy.

Having been to China myself, I could picture the banquet I attended while there in Beijing. The meal now took on a whole new meaning and now two years later, I only had to close my eyes and picture the system of how our food was served.

The tastes and smells have never left me and with my new found information, thanks...more
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“Great food needed more than chefs; it needed gourmet diners.” 2 likes
“Yuan Mei, one of China’s great gourmets, once asked his cook why, since he was so gifted and could produce great delicacies from even the most common ingredients, he chose to stay in their relatively modest household. The cook said, “To find an employer who appreciates one is not easy. But to find one who understands anything about cookery is harder still. So much imagination and hard thinking go into the making of every dish that one may well say I serve up along with it my whole mind and heart.” —LIANG WEI, The Last Chinese Chef” 0 likes
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