Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great MidwestKitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told as a series of short stories, but not as well done as Olive Kitteridge. I couldn’t see where this was going until the last story put it all together. Wasn’t at all sure I liked it until the end. Eva is something of a mysterious character. Except for one story where she is a young teen, we don’t get inside her head at all. We see her through other characters, some of whom are not very likeable. The gaps between stories might have been the most interesting part of the book. I couldn’t help but speculate on what had happened to the characters in those in-between times. And I’m betting that will be the most fodder for book club discussions! Warning – there is still much unresolved at the end. I do think this would make a really good TV movie or mini-series. Each section moves around the midwest, though the focus is always on Minnesota, and it skewers some aspect of foodie culture – everything from gourmet baby food, church suppers, and hunting, to state and county fair competitions, Whole Foods afficionados, and lutefisk. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg. For the most part, they captured the Midwest flavor of the story. Interesting that Faribault (MN) was pronounced correctly, but not Pierre (SD). But that’s a very, very minor quibble.

Book description: 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.

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