• Friday, October 28th, 2022

Nicole Mones was born in the USA in 1952. After finishing school, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Mones went to China for the first time in 1977, six weeks after the cultural revolution ended. She worked as a textile broker between the USA and the People’s Republic of China for eighteen years.

She also worked as an interpreter and a freelance. She has written non-fiction articles on China in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. She is a member of the National Committee on USA and China Relations.

Mones’ books have been translated into several languages. Her four novels to date are mainly set in China. She has received several prizes for her writing. The Last Chinese Chef, her third novel, published in 2007, won first prize in the United States and third worldwide. She is a novelist and a food writer who has written about Chinese cuisine for Gourmet Magazine. Presently she lives in Portland, Oregon.

In The Last Chinese Chef, Nicole Mones elaborates on the significance of Chinese culinary tradition and what meals mean to the indigenous, who consider them to echo their ancient history and “guanxi” philosophy. Mones says: “Chinese cuisine has its own philosophy, sensibility, and inner erudition. It’s so much more than merely food.”

The author emphasises the importance of Chinese people eating together and sharing their meals which builds a community bond. Mones goes into minute descriptions of various dishes and the methods behind their preparation to back up her theory juxtaposing it with how meals are eaten in the west.

The novel describes the richness of Chinese food and how people appreciate it, entwined with Chinese history and a love story in Beijing between an American food critic, the recently widowed middle-aged Maggie McElroy, and a half-American, half-Chinese bachelor chef Sam Liang.

Maggie left Los Angeles for Beijing to investigate a paternity claim by his Chinese mistress on her late husband Matt’s estate. When Maggie asked for some time off work, her editor, Sarah, suggested she writes a report for their Table magazine on the promising chef Sam Liang. Sam hopes to enter the national cooking team for the “Olympic competition of culture” in Beijing.

With the help of his father, Sam translated his grandfather Liang Wei’s 1925 big classic book on food called: The Last Chinese Chef (fictional) into English, from which the Mones inserts a beautiful short paragraph at the beginning of each chapter. Sam’s grandfather was a chef who cooked for the Chinese Emperor from the Qing dynasty, and Sam, born from a long line of renowned Chinese chefs, nurtured the ambition of opening a restaurant in Beijing serving traditional Chinese food. He wanted to demonstrate how classic Chinese recipes are alive and delicious and are not likely to disappear.

Nicole Mones might be a good food critic who likes and appreciates quality food, but nevertheless, her characters are bland. Another weakness of the novel is the predictability of a stereotypical vengeance of a deeply mourning wife who stops mourning and liberates herself by falling in love with the first comer after the shock of discovering her unfaithful husband’s affair with a Chinese woman.

Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable read, illustrating the author’s food writing skills and mouth-watering vivid descriptions of different Chinese dishes for Chinese food lovers and others, and what eating means to the indigenous. It offers a good insight into Chinese history and culture, going back several centuries.

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Category: Book Reviews
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