Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Food lays the framework for J. Ryan Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a debut novel reflecting his Minnesotan roots and featuring a collection of characters who exhibit the stalwart natures, deep traditions and lovable quirks native to the American Midwest.

Who is the elusive, near-mystical chef Eva Thorvald? The answer lies in every restaurant, recipe box and loving heart of the Midwestern family and friends who touched her life. The minute Eva arrived in the world, she became the greatest passion of her father, Lars Thorvald. He immediately wanted to share with her his second greatest passion--for great food and fresh ingredients--but soon learned the appalling truth: toothless babies should not eat braised pork shoulder, even if pureed. Following a family tragedy, Eva grows into a bullied child who raises hellishly hot habanero peppers in her closet, a self-possessed teenager already gaining notice for her "once-in-a-lifetime palate" and, finally, an ingénue chef with bold new ideas.

Although a novel in terms of plot chronology and character intersection, the structure of the work is closer to a short story collection. The protagonist of only one chapter, Eva dances in and out of the narrative like a will-o'-the-wisp, seen mainly through the eyes of others. Stradal uses this tactic of distance to make Eva seem larger than life, enough of a celebrity that she need only make cameo appearances in her own story. Complete with recipes for wild rice casserole and peanut butter bars, Stradal cooks up a boisterous yet authentic story of America's Heartland. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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