Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
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 and already a New York Times bestseller.
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.
2016 INDIES CHOICE BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD – ADULT DEBUT WINNER
An impressive feat of narrative jujitsu. . . that keeps readers turning the pages too fast to realize just how ingenious they are.–The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Pick
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a terrific reminder of what can be wrested from suffering and struggle – not only success, but also considerable irony, a fair amount of wisdom and a decent meal.–Jane Smiley, The Guardian
As seen on The Skimm: Warning: this will make you hungry. . . . You won’t be able to put it down. And it will up your kitchen game.
A sweet and savory treat. –People
One of 2015’s Great Reads, and a Staff Pick – NPR.org
A top 10 book of the year – Chicago Public Libraries
A top 10 book of the year – Library Reads
One of 2015’s top 15 novels – Daily Mail
One of the top 30 books of the year – Book Page
A Best Fiction of 2015 pick – Kansas City Star
A top book of 2015 – Detroit Free Press
One of the 20 best fiction books of 2015 – Business Insider
A top 12 book of the year – Los Angeles Magazine
A top 100 book of the year – Amazon.com
A top 20 book of the year in Literature & Fiction – Amazon.com
A top 12 Fiction book of the year in the Goodreads Choice Awards
An Amazon Best Book of August 2015: Get ready for the jokes. I’d wager you’ll be hearing that J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest is “delicious” and that he has “cooked up” a great story about food and foodies, a story that will leave you “satisfied, not hungry for more.” I would try not to make such lame jokes here, but what can I say? This debut novel is as tempting as a piece of Key Lime pie, so perfect is its ratio of tart-to-sweet.
The ingredients: a misfit Midwestern girl whose special gift happens to be a golden palate; single-parented by a large and lovable father/chef, she can taste a spice in a trice, and manage the hottest sauces west of the Mississippi. Never mind that Eva is shy and sort of weird looking, she knows she’s got the secret sauce and she grows more confident by the day, thanks to such concoctions as the simplest pan sautéed Walleye and original, perfect Caesar salad (which, if you don’t know – and I didn’t – was not an invention of Julius Caesar but rather that of one Italian-born chef named Caesar Cardini).
No one, least of all, Eva, is surprised when she becomes a superstar chef in our food-obsessed culture. Eva knows that people do not live by even home baked bread alone – and her quest in this novel is for sustenance of the emotional kind. Whether and where and how she finds it is the book’s special treat. And yes, you will devour it. – Sara Nelson
From School Library Journal
Stradal’s novel chronicles the young life of Eva Thorvald, beginning with her birth to a woman who would rather become an expert sommelier than a mom and who leaves with no forwarding address. Her father dies shortly after of a heart attack. The narrative then moves on to three key moments in Eva’s life: in her preteens, her teens, and her 20s.
Each section ends in a suspenseful way and many of the characters reappear in later sections. Eva’s teen years are crucial to the other parts of the narrative. Her arrival in a new high school brings romance with a boy who is awkward but smitten. Meanwhile, she works in a restaurant to help her ailing uncle and guardian pay the bills. In the restaurant, she learns about food and acquires a reputation for her marvelous palate, preparing the way for Eva’s 20s, when her dinners, given as private reserved affairs, bring her fame and satisfaction.
There is much to love here for readers of all ages. Stradal’s gentle humor pokes fun at such Midwest customs as calling any cold food a salad and satirizes a few young foodies, too. The plot moves quickly, and the unusual and stimulating structure allows readers to think about what may have happened during the gaps. And teens will enjoy seeing a girl who cannot finish high school nevertheless become a success. VERDICT A very special novel most readers will hate to see end.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
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