Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Bestseller Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is a good novel for foodies and for people who are familiar with the Twin Cities. If you like food—church basement suppers, high-end locally sourced gourmet ingredients, or county fair bake-off bars—this is a tasty treat. If you are familiar with the Twin Cities you will enjoy references to St. Paul’s Farmer’s Market, First Avenue, Loring Park, and Seward Co-op. The tone of the novel at first reminded me of Garrison Keillor, but although there still is humor later on, the tone is not as light. Set 1989-2015 mainly in the Twin Cities, each chapter reads like a short story focusing on a character connected to Eva Thorvald and featuring a particular food. In the first chapter “Lutefisk”, Eva is born in 1989 to Lars and Cynthia. Cynthia soon abandons them to be a sommelier, and Lars dies soon after that. Eva is raised by Lars’s brother Jarl and his sister-in-law Fiona who never tell Eva that they are really her uncle and aunt. As Eva grows up she uses her chocolate habaneros (Chapter 2 “Chocolate Habaneros”) to take revenge on school bullies and tastes walleye on a date with her boyfriend (Chapter 4 “Walleye”). Other chapters are about her cousin who mysteriously has sweet pepper jelly on her mind after discovering she is pregnant (Chapter 3 “Sweet Pepper Jelly”) and a difficult woman who is part of a gourmet dining group (Chapter 5 “Golden Bantam”). Through the lives of other characters, we see Eva use her extraordinary palette to move up in the world of gourmet cooking and become famous for hosting exclusive and expensive dinners. The last chapter, “The Dinner,” brings together many of the characters in the previous chapters.

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