The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel
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When Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, learns of a Chinese paternity claim against her late husband’s estate, she has to go immediately to Beijing. She asks her magazine for time off, but her editor counters with an assignment: to profile the rising culinary star Sam Liang.
In China Maggie unties the knots of her husband’s past, finding out more than she expected about him and about herself. With Sam as her guide, she is also drawn deep into a world of food rooted in centuries of history and philosophy. To her surprise she begins to be transformed by the cuisine, by Sam’s family -- a querulous but loving pack of cooks and diners -- and most of all by Sam himself. The Last Chinese Chef is the exhilarating story of a woman regaining her soul in the most unexpected of places.
watched him add many things. The aroma seemed to be sweet shrimp, nothing more. He took one and held it in his mouth, dark eyes flying through calculations. Her turn. She put one in her mouth and bit; it burst with a big, popping crunch. Inside there was the soft, yielding essence of shrimp. “How do you make it pop like that?” “Soak it in cold salt water first. That’s what I was doing when you first came in.” “It’s great,” she said. “Good,” he corrected. “Not great. I can still detect the
was none of his business. He looked away. Maybe the feeling arose in him because of the American woman. He felt sorry for her too. “Let’s go back to texture,” Jiang prodded. “Good.” Sam turned. “So far we have been talking about things that are cui, crunchy. Consider the spongy quality of intestines. Take the Nine Twists, the way they make the intestines into soup in Sichuan. And in Amoy they stuff them with glutinous rice and cook them and slice them cold with soy sauce.” “Don’t forget
about your uncle, but I also think if he’s anywhere, watching, then this is what he wishes too. For a great meal. So good luck.” “Thank you,” he said. There was a silence and then, almost to his own surprise, he said, “I would like you to come.” “This is your night. You don’t have to ask me there.” “I know. I ask because I want to.” “What if I were in your way? It’s too important.” “That’s exactly why I want you there, because it’s important. I feel better when you’re around.” She was
chaotic. On every surface were bowls and baskets and plates of fresh ingredients, every sort of vegetable and herb and paste, chopped and minced and mixed. There were freshly killed chickens and ducks. One of Sam’s old uncles — these were the other two, the ones she had not met — groomed one of the birds, turning the warm, fresh carcass around in his lap. “Do you know my Second Uncle Tan?” Sam said. “Ni hao.” Tan dipped his head. “And this is Jiang, First Uncle,” said Sam. “Hello.” “The
and you are known.” Sam swallowed. “How many will audition?” “Ten, for two spots. Two spots for northern cooks on the national team. The rest of the team will be Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunanese, and Shanghainese.” “What’s the audition?” He felt as if he were clinging to a rope high above the rapids. “Each candidate will prepare a banquet for the committee. Nephew! You must make a celestial meal for them!” “Sure,” said Sam. With a lurch he saw the complexity of it. This was not the four or five