Friday, December 12, 2008

The Last Chinese Chef

Last week I finished The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. (Mones also wrote Lost in Translation.) The book is about an American food writer who has to visit China due to a claim on her late husband's estate. While she's there, her boss gives her the assignment of writing a profile on a Chinese-American chef who has been in China for the past several years learning the art of real Chinese cuisine. He's found himself in an Olympic-type chef competition and Maggie, the writer, is observing him and writing about him.

This book was lovely. Mones lived in China for a long time, running a textile business before becoming an author, so she knows the culture, the landscape and the food very well. A good portion of the book just describes in great detail the cuisine in China: the rules it must follow, how it's not just about taste but texture, how dishes are inspired by poetry or nature, and how even if something tastes wonderful it may not be perfect. Mones writes with beautiful language, too.
Then their street ended at a T intersection, beyond which stretched a dreamy blue mirror of water dotted by islands and double-reflected pagodas. Hills covered with timeless green forest ringed the opposite shore. Small, one-man passenger boats sculled the surface, their black canopies making them seem from a distance to be random, slow-moving water bugs. As far as she could see around the lake, between the boulevard and the shore, there stretched a shady park filled with promenading people. The noises of the city swallowed themselves somehow into silence behind her. She felt a sense of calm spreading inside, blue, like the water. She glanced at him. He was smiling with the same kind of pleasure.
I really liked this book. Besides learning about Chinese food (while we may think it, what we eat as Chinese food here is in fact nowhere near actual Chinese food) and culture, the story of Maggie and Sam (the chef) is also beautiful and tender.

1 comment:

jessi said...

Sounds like it might be a good book for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge. I might need to check it out.