Against bright watercolor illustrations, “Mountain Chef” serves up the true, but little-known story of a backcountry chef whose fine food played a role in the development of the National Park Service.
Tie Sing, a Chinese American, was a renowned backcountry chef in his day. He was hired to cook for a wilderness trip comprised of men who would go on to begin the national park movement. Sing advocated for the land he loved in the way that he could: with hard work, organization, creativity and delicious food.
Pimentel discovered Sing’s story while researching a family legend set in Utah’s Bryce Canyon about a man who had come through the area to survey for a national park. As she dug through the piles of information, she encountered the story and became fascinated.
“He seemed so unflappable, so competent, so self-respected,” Pimentel said.
Sing was well-known and well-liked among many geographers in an era when those of Chinese descent were not well-treated, she said. His love of the land and ability to cook earned him a reputation as a top trail cook.
“He made a commitment to the place quite regardless of the place’s commitment to him,” Pimentel said.
Although “Mountain Chef” reads like any other children’s storybook but it is historically accurate. Pimentel spent two years researching newspapers, personal accounts and other documents so the story would be as accurate as possible. Every element in it has a historical source, from the names of the men on the trip, to the challenges Sing faced, to the meals they ate — even the clever dessert Sing made at the end of the trip is historically based.
And it’s not just the content that’s accurate. Pimentel sent photographs from her research to the book’s illustrator, Rich Lo. Lo took elements of those photographs and combined them to create original, but historically accurate scenes that reflected everything from the tentless, open-air camping to pinecone-based centerpieces.
While Pimentel has written other non-fiction books for an educational publisher, this is the first book she owns copyright to. The book is available at BookPeople of Moscow and online retailers. Manuscripts for two other books, one about the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and another about a pioneer who transported a grand piano across the plains, are completed and scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Mountain Chef” book reading and signing
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: BookPeople of Moscow, 521 S. Main St., Moscow
COST: Free. “Mountain Chef” will be available for purchase.