Kitchens of the great Midwest

J. Ryan Stradal

Book - 2015

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FICTION/Stradal, J. Ryan
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New York, New York : Pamela Dorman Books, Viking [2015]
Physical Description
312 pages ; 24 cm
Main Author
J. Ryan Stradal (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

The day chef Lars Thorvald becomes a father is the happiest day of his life. The day his wife, Cynthia, leaves him for Hutmacher's restaurant's new sommelier is his worst. Raising baby Eva on his own is a challenge, sure, but one Lars embraces with typical foodie fervor, focusing on providing only the freshest, locally sourced, and made-from-scratch meals for Eva. Unfortunately, the pressure of single parenting does him in, and orphaned Eva is left in the care of her Dorito-devouring aunt and uncle. But those early years with Lars leave their mark, and Eva grows up to be the country's hottest young chef. Her concept of $5,000-a-plate pop-up dinners set in exotic locations garners her fans, mystique, and attention, including that of the mother who abandoned her, who wrangles a ticket to Eva's dinner in hopes of finally getting to know her child. If food is love, then Stradal's tasty tale is the ultimate homage to the merits of the culinary experience, with just a soupçon of überfoodie-culture satire thrown in for a bit of zest. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

When Lars Thorvald's wife leaves him for a sommelier, he's determined to raise daughter Eva correctly, teaching her about the wonderful foods and flavors of their native Minnesota (think Scandinavian lutefisk and hydroponic chocolate habaneros). Distinctively, each chapter is devoted to a single dish and character. Purchased in a major preempt, with rights sales to seven countries and a six-city tour. [Page 58]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Renowned chef Eva Thorvald commands $10,000 per couple for exclusive, destination dinner parties that leave guests swooning. But how did she develop her discerning palate and culinary chops? What made her into the sensitive, beloved genius she is today? Each chapter, told from a different person's viewpoint, presents a phase in Eva's life, going back to her infancy when her father first introduced her to braised pork shoulder (puréed) and heirloom moonglow tomatoes. Though Eva's life is at turns tragic—her mother left the family when she was a baby, for starters—she always has her fascination with food to sustain her. At age 11, Eva grows hydroponic chocolate habaneros in her closet and uses them to take revenge on bullies. In high school, she experiences her first kiss and her first grilled walleye. By her twenties, Eva is working as a sous chef while struggling to cover medical bills for her adopted father. Eva perseveres and eventually thrives, surrounding herself with friends and family who love her and support her artistry. VERDICT Stradal is a confident first novelist, crafting characters who are singular, sometimes unlikable but always human. Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/15.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA [Page 81]. (c) Copyright 2015 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Stradal's debut novel centers on Eva Thorvald, the daughter of a chef and an aspiring sommelier, who has food in her DNA—a fact that remains irrefutable even after her mother abandons her and her father dies when she is an infant. Raised by relatives in Wisconsin and Iowa, Eva grows into a tall, awkward girl obsessed with restaurant kitchens, chili peppers, and local cuisine, which she folds into extremely popular and sought-after fine-dining experiences. Eva's story unfolds more like a short story collection than a novel as each vignette, told from the point of view of a different character, reveals another facet of her personality. The unifying (though slightly trite) conceit is that each character introduces an ingredient that lands on Eva's tasting menu in the final act. Stradal's neither a food snob nor exclusively a comfort-food advocate: he lovingly skewers Lutheran church-basement cuisine and locavore foodies alike as he tracks Eva's path to success. Certain bits of information occasionally feel deliberately withheld for dramatic effect (though they are eventually revealed), and Eva's superstar status at the end of the story feels like a little bit of a stretch, but Eva herself is a compelling, deliciously flawed character. Agent: Ryan Harbage, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (July) [Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

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 [Page 123]. (c) Copyright 2015 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Raised with a sophisticated palate by her single father, Eva learns the culturally rich stories behind a series of Midwestern dishes while becoming the star chef at a legendary restaurant.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Raised with a sophisticated palate by her single father, Eva learns the culturally rich stories behind a series of Midwestern dishes while becoming the star chef at a legendary restaurant. A first novel. 75,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

“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 PickKitchens 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.