Nicole Mones is meshing her experiences of living in China and her interest in food. Intertwined with a cross-national love story, readers learn about Chinese history and Chinese food. Readers learn effortlessly about the cultural differences concerning food, eating rituals, family relationships, restaurants, and love.
I was particularly impressed with how Nicole Mones presents the reader with many details without ever getting tedious or boring. Instead, all the details come together, they are always meaningful. Whether she describes how the food is prepared, how it is presented, or how the main characters see Chinese culture, her details and insights are relevant and exciting.
The Last Chinese Chef introduces China’s capital Beijing and a couple smaller towns to which the two main characters travel. Maggie, an American on a writing assignment and a private mission, travels in order to piece together several past events. Sam grew up in America but has lived in Beijing for several years travels in order to learn more about Chinese cooking. Both Maggie and Sam grow personally during these travels. Their love for each other grows slowly, no bed scenes before the end of the book.
The story reflects author Nicole Mones’ experiences of having lived in China for almost two decades. She paints a delightful picture of how Chinese is surrounded by rituals. The differences between Chinese eating rituals and Western rituals become clear to the reader. Neither rituals are superior to the other, instead, Nicole Mones does a superb job explaining how Chinese food and family relationships are connected.
Each chapter beings with an excerpt of Liang Wei, The Last Chinese Chef. Liang Wei was Sam’s grandfather. The book outlines in great detail what Chinese food is all about. Unlike in Western cultures, Chinese food rituals center on pattern, texture, and the whole ambience. Already after reading the first few pages, it becomes clear that Chinese food – as experienced in China – has very little to do with the typical Chinese restaurants in America.
While Sam’s story is exciting and contains many elements that few authors explore, Maggie’s story is a bit more off the shelf. Nevertheless, the mixture of both Sam’s and Maggie’s live in a surrounding few of us know much about makes for exciting reading.
The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones, was published by Houghton Mifflin company, New York, in 2007 (278 pages).