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The Last Chinese Chef    by Nicole Mones order for
Last Chinese Chef
by Nicole Mones
Order:  USA  Can
Houghton Mifflin, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

Food and a good read are two of my favorite things. For that reason, The Last Chinese Chef is the best of both worlds. Mones is also the author of Lost in Translation and she brings the same brilliance to this story which will tickle the senses of both lovers of food and lovers of romance.

Widowed food writer Maggie McElroy is drawn to China after a paternity claim is lodged against her deceased husband's estate. Still mourning the passing of her husband who died in a car accident, she sets out to unravel the mystery of the man she thought she knew everything about.

But the trip is not all personal. Her editor assigns her to write a profile on Sam Liang, a talented half-Chinese American chef who lives in Beijing and has taken on the task of translating The Last Chinese Chef, a book written by his grandfather, a revered chef. Sam is also auditioning for the Chinese national cooking team which will perform as part of the Olympic competition of culture at the 2008 games in Beijing.

Mones - who first got to know China through a newly launched textile business in 1977 - has written about Chinese food for Gourmet magazine and it shows. The descriptions of the dishes are enough to make the reader start gnawing the pages. She also perfectly captures the subtleties of living in China with morsels of Chinese food history thrown in. And the unfolding of the relationship between Maggie and Sam is equally delicious as she deals with both Maggie's grief and her growing attraction for the chef.

The Last Chinese Chef has a little something for everyone. There's a taste of mystery (did Maggie's husband leave behind a child?), a pinch of travelogue, with a hearty bit of love story and food writing. It's quite simply the perfect recipe and as with the best Chinese meals, leaves you hungry for more.

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