|Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal
4 / 5
"Lars Thorvald loved two women."
“Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout’sOlive Kitteridge. A standout.” —Library Journal (starred review)
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.
When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.
Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.
Every time I picked this book up I actually disappeared into it. That is rare for me, someone who is always running a background train of thought in her head of all the things she needs to get done. But this book was the perfect summer read: I just flew through it! Essentially, it is the story of the life of a woman and chef extraordinaire, Eva Thorvald, told through the eyes of others - some close, some mere passing acquaintances. I found it fascinating, once I understood the concept, to wait and see how Eva might fit in with each character. I did find it a bit far-fetched that they all interconnected so well at times, but I’ll give the author some leeway for the sake of the story.
I enjoyed every single viewpoint the book was written from; I thought it was such an intriguing portrait of the Midwest and its various walks of life. I actually think Eva, despite being something of the “main” character, was largely my least favorite. But her life story sure was engaging.
Food didn’t play quite as much of a role in this book as I’d thought - or, I should say, specific foods didn’t. There were a handful of recipes thrown around (makes me wonder if they are the author’s favorites), but they don’t feature so much as they shape the story. Even Stradal agrees that this is more of a family novel than a foodie book, although I think it will appeal across many types of people. The exploration of family is particularly fascinating; the author examines what family really means, be it biological family, inherited family, or the family you create around yourself.
If you are a How I Met Your Mother fan, the above video (and the book) have some great commentary on what the Midwest considers a “salad,” and harkens back to the Eriksen Family 7-Layer Salad….
Also, who knew that in the last few pages the book would introduce me to the most amazing McDonald’s ever, which is just down the road from me? How have I not heard of or seen this yet?!
So, clearly I am a fan. I look forward to seeing more from J. Ryan Stadal.
P.S. I received a complimentary ARC of this book in the mail; the above is my honest review.
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