A few snippets, but no tell-all book on the backburner Like a master chef who won't reveal his secret recipe, Dong Linfa has no plans to write a tell-all book about the five years he spent as the personal cook of Mao Zedong . Mr Dong cooked the spicy dishes favoured by Mao from 1960 towards the end of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, to 1965, shortly before the chairman launched the Cultural Revolution that threw the country into chaos. In a recent interview, he gave a tantalising glimpse into the workings of the inner court in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, but offered few new revelations about a man both admired and reviled. 'Communist Party discipline is very strict. What you know, you can't say. What you don't know, you can't ask,' said Mr Dong, dressed in his white chef's jacket and seated in a dining room at the famed Jinjiang Hotel. The central government plucked Mr Dong from the hotel's kitchen when he was only 23, sending him to Beijing with just a day's notice after officials tasted his cooking while holding a secret meeting in Shanghai. Life in Zhongnanhai was privileged and repressive at the same time. Mr Dong could move freely in and out of the massive compound. But he needed to meet the demands of leaders and the followers surrounding them. He first cooked for Liu Shaoqi, the state president who would later be criticised and purged during the Cultural Revolution. Outside the walls of Zhongnanhai, famine was stalking the land in late 1960 as the policies of the Great Leap caused local officials to overstate production while crops withered in the fields. After premier Zhou Enlai urged leaders to eat vegetarian food, Mr Dong impressed his superiors with his ability to prepare Shanghai delicacies made of soybeans and became Mao's chef. Mao preferred simple meals and the fiery hot dishes of his native Hunan province. 'Basically, he liked home cooking. He loved to eat meat,' Mr Dong said. His favourite dish was fatty pork braised in soy sauce, as many accounts claim. Mao didn't like his chef adding sugar to stir-fried dishes, although he would eat fish or pork cooked in a sweet sauce. He typically ate two meals a day of three dishes and a soup or congee. Like a peasant, he preferred coarse grains such as millet or corn over rice or wheat flour. Although he ate lightly of simple dishes, Mao had an expanding waistline. 'He was fat. He didn't do much exercise,' Mr Dong said, adding that he spent most of his time sleeping and holding meetings, although he did walk and swim in a special pool in Zhongnanhai. The young cook frequently bumped into Mao and talked to him when he took his walks. 'He was always concerned about me. Asking about my parents and whether I had a girlfriend. He didn't have the need to talk to me about his personal matters because I was just his employee,' he said. Mr Dong described himself as naive about politics, and said he had little sense of the coming storm of the Cultural Revolution. He denied any knowledge of Mao's sexual escapades, described in detail in The Private Life of Chairman Mao, a book by the leader's former doctor, Li Zhisui . However, he confirmed the tension between Mao and third wife Jiang Qing , and the close relationship with Zhang Yufeng , a train attendant who later became Mao's personal secretary. Mr Dong himself attended the regular dance parties, described by Dr Li as the way for Mao to pick woman companions, but he said many went to the gatherings. 'All the leaders danced,' he said. He read the book by Dr Li, whom he knows, after the hotel sent him to work in San Francisco. He criticised the doctor for breaking the code of silence surrounding Mao, describing the work as 'jumbled and excessive'. Now 67, Mr Dong looks back with some nostalgia to the Mao era, echoing a propaganda slogan by calling him the 'saving star'. But a hint of criticism shows when he describes the suffering of Liu Shaoqi's wife - Wang Guangmei - and the factional struggles between the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Mao allowed Mr Dong to go back to Shanghai in 1965 after he said he wanted to return home. In 1972, he cooked for US president Richard Nixon when he visited Shanghai and announced the agreement that would pave the way for normalising relations between the countries. The chef, still an adviser to the Jinjiang Hotel, has no desire to write a book or even a cookbook. Responding to the suggestion, he offers a reply as humble as the dishes he once cooked for Mao. 'I'm not famous. I was in my kitchen,' he said.