Book 68 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from August 17 - 28
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Summary (via the book jacket)
Midwestern chef Lars Thorvald has three loves in his life - his kitchen; his wife, Cynthia; and his newborn daughter, Eva. When Cynthia falls in love with wine - and a dashing sommelier - he's left to raise Eva on his own, and devotes his life to sharing his passions with his only child, starting with pureed pork shoulder.
After a childhood shaken by tragedy, Eva will find solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. She is blessed with a once-in-a-generation palate and ultimately becomes the mysterious chef behind the most sought-after dinner reservation in the country.
With a voice like no other, J. Ryan Stradal delves into the American heartland, sweeping the vast landscape of Lutheran church bake-offs, chili-pepper-eating contests, and the opening of deer season to capture the zeitgeist of the Midwest and the rise of foodie culture. Each chapter in this startlingly original debut tells the story of how a single dish or ingredient came into Eva's life - culminating in an opulent, emotional feast that's a testament to Eva's spirit and resilience.
Showing the ways in which food provides us with both comfort and community, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is by turns quirky, hilarious, and heartbreaking. This is a novel about one girl's extraordinary farm-to-table success story, about mothers and daughters, how food becomes the common language of our lives, and the bittersweet nature of life itself - its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. This is a book you will read in one huge bite but savor for a long time to come.
My friends and I go to the Iowa City Book Festival every year and this author created the best memory I've had there. In 2015 we went to his reading; I already had the book on my "to-read" list but hearing him speak bumped it up higher on the list and we all bought copies that he signed. We had a break so we went next door to eat and just after we sat down, J. Ryan Stradal came in and sat by himself nearby to eat as well. I'm an introvert so I surprised both my friends (and myself) when I took their suggestion to approach him and invite him to come eat with us. He accepted and we had a lovely meal discussing books and more.
As for the book itself, I didn't take many notes because it's not the kind of story that can be broken down and I was just invested in it as I was reading. Being from Iowa, so many of the mannerisms and customs rang true, such as responding to a compliment about clothing with the deal you got on them (so proud to pay as little as possible!).
Quote from the Book
"...Octavia was a nice person with a big, generous heart who felt sorry for outsiders and tried to help them. And people like her never get any thanks for their selflessness. They are not the ones with the hardness to make others wait; they are the ones left waiting, until their souls are broken like old bread and scattered in the snow for the birds. They can go right ahead and aspire to the stars, but the only chance they'll ever have to fly is in a thousand pieces, melting in the hot guts of something predatory."