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Chinese Food Novel Feeds Hearts, Stomachs

May 6, 2007 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Can Chinese food heal a broken heart?

In her new novel, The Last Chinese Chef, Nicole Mones weaves her experience writing about Chinese food for Gourmet magazine into a story about a woman trying to find solace from her husband's untimely death.

Using Chinese culinary history, language and tantalizing descriptions of fine cuisine, Mones shows how food can both nourish the body and the soul.

Her protagonist, Maggie, flies to Beijing on a dual assignment: cover a chef competition and investigate a paternity suit that has been filed against her late husband. Maggie meets a chef, Sam, whose family's culinary history goes back to Imperial times.

His old-school recipes and history lessons of high Chinese cuisine revive Maggie's passion for food, even as she learns the truth about her husband.

Mones first visited China in 1977, six weeks after the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1999 she began writing about Chinese food for Gourmet magazine, covering the food scenes in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan Province and Los Angeles.

Her extensive research for The Last Chinese Chef takes readers into the philosophy and artistic ambitions of Chinese cuisine — and leaves them hungry for her recipes.

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