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Eva Thorvald was born to an earnest cook at an old-school Minneapolis restaurant and a young and restless waitress turned sommelier. One day Thorvald’s running what are perhaps the most expensive and secretive pop-up dinners in the world, where attendees spend years on a waiting list, but how did she get there? Stradal journeys through the changing times and culinary trends to tell Eva’s story, sometimes from her perspective, but mostly dancing around her character, and often leaving us to fill in the blanks. Shaped like short stories (in one of my favorite chapters, Bars, Eva is but a judge in a contest) but vital to the narrative, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is to restauranting what The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and The Little Paris Bookshop are to bookselling – a grand celebration of life, love, luck (or perhaps that’s fate), and meaning, told with spirit and style.— Daniel Goldin
August 2015 Indie Next List
“In the story of Midwestern chef savant Eva Thorvald and the people -- and foods -- that touch her life, Stradal has created a picture of the American foodie revolution of the past 25 years and of its intersections with class, economics, family, and culture. Along with irresistible characters and stories, this is a novel about the potential that food and cooking offer for joy and empowerment, for snobbery and shame, and for identity and reinvention. Beautifully structured and affectionately and hilariously written, this is a novel that -- like Thorvald's exclusive pop-up supper club -- everyone is going to be talking about!”
— Jessica Stockton Bagnulo (M), Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
“A sweet and savory treat.” —People
“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 novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation. It was selected as a best book of the year by Amazon, BookPage, LibraryReads, and NPR.
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.
About the Author
J. Ryan Stradal edits the fiction section of The Nervous Breakdown. His writing has appeared in The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and McSweeney’s: The Goods, among other places. Born and raised in Minnesota, he now lives in Los Angeles and has worked as a TV producer, notably for the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers and Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.