Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cooking In The Wild

If you've ever gone camping you know how difficult starting a good fire can be.  Once you get the fire going, it's tricky to cook with the inability to regulate the heat with ease like you can with a stove or an oven.  It's not like you have multiple burners either.  You have to plan with precision how you are going to cook each part of the meal.  You might have to bury a portion of the food in a pit of hot coals to slow cook all day.  If the weather is inclement, a whole new set of problems appear.

Let's step back in time to the early nineteen hundreds.  Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service (Charlesbridge, August 2, 2016) written by Annette Bay Pimentel with illustrations by Rich Lo is a tribute to the skill and determination of one man who triumphs no matter what happens.  He was an American who loved his country and wanted to do what he could to protect it.

Tie Sing was a frontier baby, born high in the mountains in Virginia City, Nevada.  Growing up, he breathed crisp Sierra air and scuffed through sagebrush.  He learned to write in both English and Chinese.

Tie Sing watched and knew how Chinese were treated with prejudice in America.  He realized he would have to work with diligence to elevate himself above those positions usually obtained by the Chinese.  His desire was to be the best cook for those exploring the mountain areas.

His reputation grew:  the best trail cook in California!

In 1915 one of America's wealthiest men, Stephen Mather, was trying to create a National Park Service to preserve the natural grandeur in our United States.  To make this a reality he knew he needed to get those in power to the land itself.  He organized a trip for

writers, tycoons, members of Congress---and even a movie star---to go camping.

To insure this trip's success he hired the best wilderness chef---Tie Sing.  This was no easy task for Tie Sing.  Ten days of meals for thirty people was quite an undertaking even for the best in the business.  An assistant, Eugene, helped to ease his load but these two men worked from before dawn until well after dark with no modern conveniences.  This included packing (every single day) all the food, tableware, dishes, napkins, tablecloths, cooking, maintaining and starting the fires, washing dishes and linens and keeping the entire camp comfortable for the visitors.

Their menus were as elaborate as those in fancy restaurants until one morning disaster struck.  The mule carrying all the fine, fine food was gone.  No amount of searching revealed its whereabouts.  Angry but with purpose in his heart, Tie Sing altered his meal plans.  His ingredients were changed but his cooking was as superb as it could possibly be.  No one left the evening meal hungry.

With great care Tie Sing navigated a narrow trail the next day but one stubborn mule fell over the cliff, damaging its entire load.  When he arrived at the camp, it was late and everyone was more than ready to eat.  What Tie Sing did was nothing short of a miracle.  And he was not finished yet.  On their last night, he put all his beliefs in the beauty of this land into an extra project which

one year, one month and one day 

later revealed results.

Author Annette Bay Pimentel makes it very clear in the first three pages how much Tie Sing loved the country of his birth and his intentions to live in the outdoors whenever possible.  He perfected his culinary expertise so he could do what he loved best where he felt most at home.  Pimentel's extensive research is evident in her use of quotes and details.  She brings this man and his environment to life for readers by making us a part of the day to day tasks during this specific ten day excursion.  Here is a passage from a point on the trail.

Each morning Tie Sing woke in the shivering dark and whispered instructions to Eugene.  They stacked firewood in the cookstoves and fed kindling to trembling flames until the fire burned steady and strong.  They watched the edge of the sky turn rosy while they cracked dozens of eggs.  As the other campers crawled out of their sleeping bags, Tie Sing packed box lunches and put steaks on to sizzle.  He served breakfast as a yellow edge of sun peeked above the horizon.

Rendered in

pencil drawings and watercolor washes done on paper, then scanned and layered in Photoshop

the illustrations beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case evoke a very real sense of place, time and a remarkable man; larger than life among nature's grandeur.  To think of him packing and unpacking the loads on those mules day after day and leading them over the western terrain is astonishing.  To the left, on the back, Rich Lo gives us a beautiful, close-up view of Tie Sing's final gesture on the final evening of this trip. (I won't spoil it for you.)

Done in several tones of brown the opening and closing endpapers contain a map of the trip beginning at Giant Forest and ending in Horseshoe Meadow.  The legend includes towns, roads, the camping trip route, campsites and the boundary of Sequoia National Park today.  Beneath the text on the title page is a snapshot view of a western town.

The majority of the illustrations span two pages, edge to edge.  They may contain more than one perspective as our eyes move from left to right.  They may also portray more than one single moment in time. There is a quality to each image where the scenic landscape and Tie Sing evoke the same sort of emotion in the reader.

One of my favorite pictures is of Tie Sing setting out pieces of apple pie for dessert after the mule ran away during the day.  He's smiling at one of the seated campers who have a cup raised in his hand.  Four others are seated around the golden blaze of a roaring fire.  Night is coming as the sky darkens.  The atmosphere is relaxed.

Without the efforts of author Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrator Rich Lo in making Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service how would readers come to know the marvelous lifetime achievements of Tie Sing?  Through this book you will come to understand how valuable he was in helping to establish the National Park Service.  At the close of the book author Annette Bay Pimentel has four pages dedicated to further explanations about Tie Sing, the National Park Service, where they camped, and some of the members making the journey.  Real photographs are included.

You will want to visit the websites of Annette Bay Pimentel and Rich Lo to learn more about them and their other work.  Rich Lo includes several interior images from this title.  Annette Bay Pimentel was a guest at the Nerdy Book Club on November 20, 2016.  She wrote a post for author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations on March 9, 2016.  Annette Bay Pimentel was interviewed at From The Mixed-Up Files...  Rich Lo was interviewed at Manhattan Book Review.  This title was featured at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher on August 17, 2016.

To view the titles selected by bloggers this week participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy.


  1. This sounds like a very interesting, and totally different book. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It is a wonderful look at a person who is directly responsible for a huge undertaking in our country. We are still enjoying these accomplishments due to his outlook on life and his hard work and skill.

  2. I've read this wonderful story by Annette, and love all that you included about it, Margie. It's terrific!

  3. Love this post! What a fascinating story.

    1. Hello Jama~ It is completely fascinating. To think what he was able to do with so little is mind-boggling.