Stop what you’re doing (ok, finish reading this first), and go get this book. Buy it, check it out, download it, whatever – just do yourself a favor and read this book. Put it at the top of your TBR list. This really is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is all about Eva Thorvald, one of the best chefs in the Midwest. The title does seem somewhat misleading though, although Eva’s life revolves around food, the book does not. She is a complete foodie, but does not spend that much time in the kitchen.
The story of Eva begins with her parents. Her dad was a chef, her mother a waitress and wannabe sommelier, and back in the 80s – especially in Minnesota, there weren’t many opportunities for her. After Eva is born, she flees, believing that she’ll never be the mother that Eva needs, and that Eva will be better off without her. So she grows up not knowing her real parents. This isn’t a spoiler, this happens in the first two chapters.
The story picks up again after both of her parents are gone, and it becomes immediately clear that though they are no longer a part of her life, her life is significantly shaped by them. Her life seemed troubled from the start though, and the aunt and uncle who raised her never tell her the real story of her parents’ passing. I constantly wondered when and if she would learn the truth. That did not seem to matter to her though, she was devoted to the parents who raised her.
As a girl she grew to be tall, beautiful, and eccentric, the object of many boys desire. She loved food, and it’s while in high school that she gets her first restaurant job. This, just as the influence of her parents, is important to her evolution. With a sophisticated and complicated palate, she seems so much like her real father, who began feeding her gourmet food, even as a baby. She is as committed to food as he was.
There is a quitesential Midwestern quality about this book – the people, the culture, and the food. And I really, really loved it. There’s a hilarious part at the end of the book with a baking competition. A woman, who grew up on these traditions enters an old recipe, and everyone freaks out over the ingredients that she used. J. Ryan Stradal, who wrote the book, is actually from Minnesota, and was able to capture that feel, that is associated with Midwestern-ness. I really loved the story, and loved her. I loved hearing about the recipes, and the ingredients. I’ve heard rumors of a sequel, and I would love to hear the story of Eva continue.