J. Ryan Stradal is a master of the three F's of writing: fiction, family, and food. Last year, I listened to his second book The Lager Queen of Minnesota (what a name am I right?!) and I loved it. It was a sweeping family saga centered around one common American beverage...beer. Because it was so brilliant, I decided to pick up his debut novel, The Kitchens of the Great Midwest this summer.
A little backstory
Lars Thorvald and his wife, Cynthia, have each other and their other two love affairs, food and wine. Lars is a well-known chef, his wife is a budding sommelier, and their daughter, Eva, is just a little girl with a bright future ahead...until things go upside-down. Cynthia chooses wine over family, Lars dies heartbroken and Eva is left to be raised by her aunt and uncle.
As she grows up, she discovers that she has a talent for spotting out flavors, withstanding the heat of fiery peppers, and creating beautifully complex dishes. Through her experiences, she not only stands firm in who she is, but she also becomes a star chef behind a secretive pop-up restaurant in the upper midwest.
Throughout her coming of age saga, you meet her parents, her family, members of her community, and other important people who show how important food is in terms of family, community, and identity.
When a book makes my mouth water, my heart beat faster and my whole body sigh in awe...that is the power of an unbelievable book. Stradal encompassed the support of family, the deep connection food has in our lives, and the beauty of the Midwest all in less than 400 pages. I truly felt at home while reading this book. He literally made me salivate when describing the dishes Eva made, and that is a very difficult thing to do in a fiction book for me!
I also loved how this book focused so much on family. Family is highly important to me, and so many different things could have happened with Eva following her parents' departure. He talked about her struggles, her loves, the people who carried her through, and how the overwhelming love for food brought her to where she was at the end of the book. A true testament to overcoming life's adversities and chasing dreams.
I highly recommend this book for any person that lives in the midwest and loves food as much as I do.