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The Last Chinese Chef

09/01/2009

“Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it hte freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating nor cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation?” 

–Liang Wei, The Last Chinese Chef, pub. Peking 1925

On my last trip to Half-Price Books I compulsively bought a novel entitled The Last Chinese Chef  by Nicole Mones. I may have come across the title in a magazine somewhere, in which case it wasn’t completely compulsive, but it felt gutteral. As it turns out, I made an excellent purchase. I was hooked on the plot and the writing immediately and finished the book in less than two days. It is the story of two characters: one, a widow who is a food writer from LA and has to go to Beijing to deal with a suit filed against her late husband. The second figure is a half Chinese-half American living in Beijing who is taking on the inheritance of his grandfather by becoming the second last Chinese chef (his grandfather wrote a book of that title in 1925 about imperial cuisine, among other things). 

In addition to being a great read, my take-away from this book was the following: if I did not keep kosher and if eating pig fat, chicken feet, fish heads, eels, etc. did not completely scare off my appetite, I would be on a plane to China right now to sample what sounds like one of the most incredible and under-appreciated cuisines in the world. The descriptions not only of the flavors and textures of the dishes, but also the thoughts, nuances, allusions, and philosophy behind each taste, dish, and meal is completely captivating. 

Why can’t Gan Asia be delicious?

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