Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest - by J. Ryan Stradal: Book Review

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal follows the life of Eva Thornton, but with a twist. Instead of following her every move, snippets of her life are shown in different shots of other people's lives: her father, her cousins, her boyfriend, her ex-boyfriend's mother, her mother. I liked how the same characters were mentioned in different chapters, and in totally different contexts. It gave the book a sort of unique circularity.

You learn about Eva's history, but not very much about her she feels and what her thoughts are. The most she is mentioned in are the chapter she's an elementary school student and in the one about her boyfriend. Probably the most you can learn about her is by looking at the recipes scattered throughout the novel. I must admit I skipped those altogether; I'm not a cook and all those fancy ingredients spoke nothing to me, although I am sure I missed a big chunk of the novel's point. 

In the final chapter, at one of 24 year old Eva's famous Dinner, while the guests, among who was her biological mother, are eagerly waiting for Eva to come greet the guests, one of the dinner servers announces that: "Eva Thorvald thanks you for coming to dinner tonight. She regrets that she is too exhausted to join you all in person, but is so happy that you could share in what she told me has been her greatest dinner of all time. She's told me that even though you won't meet her tonight, she's telling you her life story through the ingredients in this meal, and although you won't shake her hand, you've shared her heart." It's a rather... lame refusal to greet the guests, but what is important in this is the mention of "telling her life story through the ingredients". Eva has an incredible talent for cooking, and it has been passed down to her by her father, the one who insisted in feeding her serious food since she was a mere baby. Eva grows to be a person interested in cooking more than anything else, and all the other characters the novel focuses on are linked both to Eva in some way, and to food and cooking.

This sort of novel will surely appeal to those who have an interest in cooking. It liked the way the novel was structured, but it didn't take me by surprise, at least not more than 3stars.

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. 

I received an ebook version of this book via Net Galley. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are mine. 

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