The Legend of the Head Chef’s Knife, by Richard Hsu, is a marvel and a delight to all the senses. The descriptions of the food preparation actually made me try some new things in my own kitchen. Further, the chapters about the boys learning to cook prize winning Taiwanese food are spiced up by a several generations intrigue surrounding the top restaurant in Taipei. In between the parts of the story, there are chapters with descriptions of Buddhism, Chinese culture, and family codes of honor. I was absolutely enchanted by the story and also by the descriptions of the foods and how they were prepared.
Ling-Shao is studying hard as an apprentice to become a head chef to honor his father, who was killed by bandits. He had himself been a chef and so it was very important to Ling-Shao to follow him. But things kept going wrong. He broke an important dish for a competition. He tried his own ideas, which was certainly frowned upon by the strict management with an insistence on tradition. And somehow, he had earned the wrath of one of the chefs who relished making his life miserable and trying to make him fail. Twice he was even sent out of the kitchen in disgrace to do other, more menial jobs.
The Legend of the Head Chef’s Knife will delight readers who enjoy authors like Amy Tan. With the multi-faceted descriptions of Taiwanese culture, readers will learn about many things besides Taiwanese cooking and the entertainment of a good story. Highly recommended for any Amy Tan fans and anyone who enjoys Asian fiction or culture.