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The Last Chinese Chef

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  7,629 ratings  ·  1,395 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, learns o
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published May 4th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Marge Her book A Cup of Light has a similar style. Her first book I did not enjoy as much, but just as captivating. All of her books leave you w/ something…moreHer book A Cup of Light has a similar style. Her first book I did not enjoy as much, but just as captivating. All of her books leave you w/ something to think about. The Last Chinese Chef has the undertone of the politics of even the world of cooking.(less)

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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,629 ratings  ·  1,395 reviews

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Aug 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 enlighteni
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 w
Susan Johnson
Nov 16, 2016 rated it liked it
2.5 stars

The story of an American food writer who flies to China to interview an American, of Chinese descent, competing in China's culinary Olympics. The chef, Sam, comes from a long line of famous Chinese chefs and the contest is very competitive. Ten chefs compete for two spots from their region.

Maggie, the food writer, is in her late 30's and recently widowed. Her husband had done business in China and now a family is filing for support for a child they claimed her husband fat
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Julie Christine
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 d
Madhulika Liddle
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 makes a ...more
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 Chi
Oct 02, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
It was a light read I found looking for novels with the theme of food. As many other American novels it was hundred pages too long, full of repetitions as if it wanted to teach you a lesson. But in good moments, moments of talking about food and Chinese food philosophy, it was brilliant and delicious. By the way tell me if you know any good food novel. I am always up for one!
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
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-women, read-2016
When I first read the first epigraph from the 1925 “book,” Last Chinese Chef – which was written by Nicole Mones for the novel of the same name – I was optimistic and enthusiastic. Mones lived in China for 18 years exporting textiles, then wrote about Chinese food for Gourmet. Her book is deeply researched and, on this level, is very satisfying. The characters, especially the central American character, Maggie, an American food columnist drawn to China to investigate a paternity suit against her recently-de ...more
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 t
Aug 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foodie-fiction
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
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 27, 2012 rated it liked it
The components seem irresistible: food, foreign travel, a mystery. But, in the end this is a pretty pat novel, though very fun to read. The book was at its best describing Chinese cuisine and the community element in dining. It made me want to cook this food, eat this food and travel to China. The love story and the plot regarding the main character's "unresolved business" in China are rushed and predictable. Nonetheless, good read. Would like to read this writer's non-fiction regarding Chinese ...more
Haoyan Do
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really like the part of the book that talks about Chinese cuisine, which is what I am interested in. I am familiar with it, but I kind of want to know how Chinese cuisine is viewed by people who have a completely different cultural background. Since I read Anthony Bourdain's book "Kitchen Confidential", I've realized that food is not only for the taste buds, but also for the eyes of book lovers. My complaint about the book is that the book doesn't have enough cuisine material. A lot is said ab ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book further explains things I experienced while in China. In China it was easy to see the time spent in preparing specialty dishes, but as American's we assumed it was all about the presentation and being pleasing to the customer's eye. The Chinese never let me "grab dinner alone or bring food back to my hotel alone". The were always keen to ensure I ate with someone or in a group and I very much appreciated this so I could be sure to "know what I was eating" and how it was prepared. I eat ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese cookery
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: browsing shelves of my local bookstore
Shelves: food, fiction, china
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
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a fantastic book to finish my reading year. Highly recommended!
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 20, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Pamela Pickering
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 usef ...more
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Barbara by: Public library book group
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.
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The timing of my reading was auspicious (as the Chinese would say). I was in China at the time. This was one of those rare books that I loved from the moment I picked it up. Normally, I'll go through about 20 pages of a book before I will like or dislike it, but this one had me from page 1. It's about a woman who is grieving her husband and goes to China to work out a paternity suit. While there, she discovers Chinese cuisine. The story is okay, nothing predictable but not too exciting either. W ...more
Dec 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Ron Davidson
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found this book by accident browsing the shelves at the library. I like looking for Chinese authors, but I decided to give this a try because of the subject matter. I give it four stars for the fascinating descriptions of Chinese cuisine and the role of food in Chinese culture. (Now I understand why Chinese restaurants always had "Dinner for [2, 4, etc.]" on their menus. Read the book to find out.) The main story, however, seems like your run-of-the-mill chick lit. (I remember when chick lit w ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dropped
I made it to page six:
Page one: used the hated, non-word "soul" twice.
Page two: every sentence starts with the word "She."
Page three: She said, "flat dialog." I said "flat dialog," my manner disguising some hint of obvious mystery, perhaps romantic mystery?
Page four: Unfeeling statements of feeling. Deep feeling. Stirring-in-my-soul type of feeling.
Page five: Only 273 pages to go!
Page six: My god this book is horrible.
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