Pick of the Week: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

StraadalJRyanEva Thorvald is an innovative, legendary Minnesota chef whose secret supper club garners $5,000 a person. This celebrity cook’s story is slowly revealed in J. Ryan Stradal’s refreshing debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

Each chapter is written from the perspective of a person who kitchensofthegreatmidwestwas significant in Eva’s life. The chapters conclude suddenly and the story jumps ahead, but the plot lines tie together nicely at the end. The novel begins with the viewpoint of Eva’s father, Lars Thorvald, a Minnesota chef who is determined to teach his daughter everything he knows about food. This includes feeding his baby heirloom tomatoes and pureed braised pork shoulder.  From this start, Eva develops a once-in-a-lifetime sophisticated palate at a young age.

The book is clearly a love letter to the strong food culture of the Midwest. The seven chapters are named after a food item; the first is appropriately called Lutefisk, the dried cod that Scandinavian descendants like to eat at Christmas. There also are recipes sprinkled throughout the book, and I admit I copied down the ones for peanut butter bars and Kraft caramel bars. I loved how the author included these homey recipes that our moms and grandmothers made, alongside descriptions of the latest trendy cuisine. The vivid descriptions of food always made me want to eat something delicious (especially those peanut butter bars).

Touching, sad and funny, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a delicious read about family dynamics and the delight of eating and cooking. The characters are vividly drawn and Eva is refreshingly different and independent. I recommend this debut novel for foodies and non-foodies alike.
Jo Hansen, jhansen@cooklib.org

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