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Kitchens of the Great Midwest

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  43,092 ratings  ·  6,282 reviews
When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine--and a dashing sommelier--he's left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He's determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter--starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate haba ...more
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published July 28th 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
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J. Stradal I agree with (and enjoy) the readers' interpretations in this thread. You'll notice that I don't like giving hard answers to readers, because I believ…moreI agree with (and enjoy) the readers' interpretations in this thread. You'll notice that I don't like giving hard answers to readers, because I believe that readers complete a story -- a novel isn't finished until someone's read it and enhanced it their own imagination and point of view. Braque I knew would be challenging for some readers -- on a number of levels -- but I'm glad that she's a puzzle that readers are willing to complete. It's what I like to do as a reader.(less)
J. Stradal They're based on a recipe from my great-grandmother's cookbook, and while they may not be for everybody, folks in my family have enjoyed them for deca…moreThey're based on a recipe from my great-grandmother's cookbook, and while they may not be for everybody, folks in my family have enjoyed them for decades.(less)

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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  43,092 ratings  ·  6,282 reviews

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Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: free-from-work
this is a book that uses that kooky structure i so enjoy when it's done right. like John's Wife and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, we learn about the life of one character, here eva thorvald, through the eyes of the people who knew her at various stages in her life. in a series of episodic stories told by her father, her first boyfriend, a jealous rival, her cousin, etc etc - people who knew her well and people who knew her briefly, we watch her progress from an orphaned baby to a master ch ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Warm and charming. Interesting narrative structure. At times, Eva felt a bit manic pixie dream girl. But it is really nice to see such a lovely novel about people from the Midwest. A really fine debut.
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a charming foodie novel. I had expected a sweet story, but the book ended up surprising me with its richness and depth.

What I liked best about this book was how each chapter was told from a different person's perspective. First we meet Lars, a chef who who adores his baby daughter, Eva. Lars' wife abruptly abandons them for another man, forcing him to be a single dad. The next chapter focuses on Eva as a young girl. Eva has inherited her father's gift for cooking, and we watch her grow
Anne Bogel
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club February 2021 selection

Last year, I loved listening to Stradal's second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, so I thought I'd enjoy his debut in this audio format, too, as narrated by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Please, I beg you, don’t read the jacket copy (or the Goodreads description above, but it's probably too late for that). I enjoyed it more by not knowing very much going into it.

Stradal’s novel-in-stories spans more than thirty years and takes us to half a
May 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-read-2015
Kitchens of the Great Midwest (or more aptly called “Eva’s Life by Way of Briefly Mentioning Food) takes Eva Thorvald rather rapidly from a newly-orphaned babe to a Scandinavian goddess with chipped fingernail polish who has a palate for either extremely hot peppers or one able to discern individual flavors from the most simply and exquisitely prepared dish. I grew up in the Midwest and lived in both Iowa and Minnesota so was excited to read this book. I knew many of the place names and was able ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My, oh my, did I love this book.

I'm not sure if it resonated so strongly because:

a) I spent most of my growing-up years in the Midwest
b) I married a man from Minnesota
c) I have actually eaten lutefisk
d) My in-laws once, as a gift, gave me The Central Lutheran School of St. Paul, MN Cookbook (and it wasn't a gag gift). Said cookbook includes an entire chapter dedicated to bars.

Stradal's book isn't quite a novel, and isn't exactly a collection of short stories, but more like "snapshots" of life, w
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is hilarious without being cynical, touching without being overly sentimental, and wholly original. It is one of those rare books you can finish in a day or two, but won't stop thinking about for months, and J. Ryan Stradal's voice is one of a kind. He captures the cadence of the Midwest perfectly and lovingly, and while he allows the reader to laugh at some of the more "stereotypical" midwestern characters, it never feels like these characters are being mocked.

Aug 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, contemporary
Was I entertained? Yes.
Did I love the book? No.
Can he write? Definitely!
Was I frustrated with the narration? Yes.
Did I like the ending? I think so. The final chapter was far-fetched, but I enjoyed the final paragraph.

I'll try to explain myself. This is a very different type of book. Without giving away any spoilers, the story is about Eva - her infancy, childhood and young adulthood. She is born with an amazing palate and has always been absurdly obsessed with food.

There are numerous characters
Jaclyn Day
Aug 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I told a friend yesterday that this book is almost perfect. It’s so rare to read a novel that just makes you happy–that makes you smile at the end. I loved the story, starting from the moment Eva’s chef father asked a confused pediatrician why he couldn’t feed his three-month-old daughter pork shoulder. ("For now, just breast milk and formula for the first three months." "That’s awful," Lars said.) The book starts and ends with food, and in the meantime, each chapter focuses on a particular fami ...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 On the surface, and of course from the title it seems like this would be a book about food. It is but also much, much more. We first get to know Eva as a baby and from there each chapter is narrated by a different character and highlights a different food. Almost more like connected narratives, than one continuing story. We learn about Eva, and her wonderful palate as well as her cooking talent from others, connected to her either loosely or personally. Found this to be a novel concept and c ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mid-western
The title and cover of this book give the false impression that it will encompass a warm and maybe historical feel of the food traditions and people of the midwest. The only reason I read over 80 pages in this is because I grew up on some of the streets mentioned and the places that provided the setting for this abysmal story. The adults have few redeeming qualities, the college student was just so trashy (the attitude toward her pregnancy was pretty revolting too) and the food aspect of this is ...more
Jessica J.
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What can I say, this book was perfectly tailored to all of my literary tastes.

No pun intended, I swear.

I always have the hardest time writing reviews for books that I fall in love with. It’s so much harder to quantify, “this book gave me lots of feelings” in a way that’s more than just SQUEEEEE!!!, and I always feel a lot of pressure to moderate myself because what if people read the book because I loved it here on Goodreads and then they hate it—and thus, they hate me?

(Yes, that’s how my brai
N. Moss
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oh my god I love this book. It careens in a way that has kept me in a tense place where I don't want to stop reading, but I don't want to rush the book either. The voice of each chapter is unique and hilarious and touching, and I am in love with Eva, the protagonist who grows and eats and cooks with incredibly hot peppers, and turns into this weird, goth, cool chef chick and more. I don't want to give anything away, but this is one of those books that I can't believe I get to be "in on" before i ...more
Jennifer Lane
Two Cups of Strange Characters, A Tablespoon of Food Porn, And a Dash of Midwest

I’m not sure how to rate this book. The writing is top notch with unique characters. But parts of the story disappointed or disgusted me, and the ending felt anticlimactic.

Eva Thorvald is just a baby when her sommelier mother abandons her. Her foodie father, who serves her gourmet delicacies, dies next. Despite this tumultuous childhood, Eva grows up to be a world-renown chef.

This book is Eva’s story, told through m
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
3 1/2 stars. Kitchens of the Great Midwest made me hungry. It's not a cookbook, but interspersed amongst these connected stories are a few recipes and descriptions of really tasty sounding dishes. The link between all of the stories is Eva, who has a rough start in life when her mother abandons her as a baby and her father dies soon after from a heart attack. She is then raised as their own by her father's brother and his wife. The book consists of a series of interlinked stories told from the p ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars: KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal is an engaging story of Eva Thorvald, a major culinary force. Eva’s story begins sadly, as her mother abandons her as an infant, and soon after that, her father dies of cardiac arrest. Her father, Lars, was a foodie and a chef. Before his death, he had big plans to feed her gourmet food mashed up in a food processor. He wanted to introduce culinary delights at a young age. Ultimately, her Uncle and Aunt raise her in basic poverty.

Her e
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just as your first steaming cup of coffee of the morning, sweet butter melting on freshly baked bread, a brilliant red heirloom tomato, a slice of carrot cake, and wine, great wine, are meant to be savored, so are these stories of Eva Thorvald. Born to a woman who chose a sommelier over her and a man who cherished her more than life itself, she grew up in our great Midwest learning about fresh food and family through osmosis.

The descriptions made me hungry for farm stand produce and Peanut Butt
Jul 28, 2015 rated it liked it
For me this book is just one of those that starts off great and just slowly keeps sliding downhill. I also didn't get why it even included recipes, it's like the author thought that would be cool but it doesn't add anything to the story at all. I don't want to say too much about the ending so I don't spoil anything but let's just say I thought it was bad. Kitchens of the Great Midwest has promise but could have used a strong editor to really push Stradal's story into something amazing. ...more
Christmas Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
I liked this book. I didn't love it.

I'm doing the Book Pool with the BLK reading group & other than my own selections, this is the book that caught my eye. And normally I love to read about other cultures.

Not this time.

I just felt really alienated from all the characters in this book, other than minor character Pat Prager & her family. These characters were funny & Stradal's writing really came alive writing their story. But I didn't care about anyone else
Susan Phillips
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quirky and courageous with an absolutely fascinating structure. A few elements of magical realism. This would be a terrific book club book. It will especially resonate with Midwesterners. (Not a romance.)
What a wonderful way to start my new year of reading! A touching book about "found family" that I connected to in so many ways! It is set where I live in and around The Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's about food and foodie culture and about people from all walks of life and how they connect in surprising and unexpected ways.

This is the story of Eva Thorvald, born to a budding chef father and a sommelier mother. Lars Thorvald has great aspirations for his daughter, even arguing with the pediatric
Cathrine ☯️
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 Riedel wine glasses
I loved this touching, quirky, delightful, original story and so appreciated it after some heavy reads. Each chapter is an anecdote from a different time period in Eva’s life journey starting from just before her birth. Each is told from the perspective of a different person in her radar of peeps at that juncture and all will come full circle in the end. Because her father is a foodie and wants to be a chef and her mother has a love affair with wine and wants to be a somme
(Nearly 4.5) One of my favorite debuts of 2015. From my Bookmarks review: Stradal has revealed that his grandmother’s Lutheran church cookbook was the inspiration for this culinary-themed novel that takes place over the course of 30 years. His unique structure takes what are essentially short stories from different perspectives and time periods and links them loosely through Eva Thorvald, an intriguing character who remains hard to pin down. Eva’s pop-up supper club gains fame thanks to her inno ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I received a copy of this from the publisher through the Penguin First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

The story of Eva Thorvald, a chef with a once-in-a-lifetime palate, is told through other people in her life. It starts with her mother, her father, then moves toward people who aren't as directly connected to her. This tactic had varying amounts of success in my mind. In the beginning I felt I had a clear sense of Eva, particularly in her love for spicy pepper jelly as an unborn
We listened to the audiobook of KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST. The readers were excellent giving different voices for each character. Sections were humorous - my husband, who rarely laughs aloud, chuckled several times! However, he did not appreciate the vulgar language which was used throughout much of the book. Nor did I. About 40% into the book I was considering not finishing it. I read some reviews and based upon some 5 and 4 stars reconsidered. I wanted to know how Eva's life would turn
3.5 stars

This book was nothing like what I expected (though not necessarily in a bad way). Based on the title and premise as described on the jacket cover, I thought the story would be about the main character Eva Thorvald’s journey from obscurity to becoming a world renown chef. While that journey did indeed happen, the way her story was told completely took me by surprise. Going into this one, I was expecting a linear story, perhaps told from Eva’s perspective, that chronicled her rise from th
Barbara A.
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, fiction
Astonishing. It is rare to find a book that meets and exceeds its pre-pub. hype.
The stories are at once restrained, involving, wry, funny, and spot-on reads of both Midwest life and foodie culture. Eva is creating, making, sharing far more that great food here. She is creating and sustaining an extended family. I am hungry for more by Stradal. And I think I am going to reread this immediately. Brilliant, affecting, memorable.
Read alikes? Louise Erdrich's short stories meet Ruth Reichel's memoi
Melania 🍒
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kitchens of the Great Midwest will always have a special place in my heart. It’s funny because I bought this book knowing almost nothing about it, I used a random number generator to pick something from my wishlist and this was it. It was also in a time that I just got into reading again, and this was perfect for me at that point.
And now, upon re-reading it, I realize that even if I’m a different reader and I have other expectations from my books, this story will alway stay with me.
Kari Ann Sweeney
I read this book on audio and it was sublime! The voice talent was spot on. Was the Minnesotan accent over the top? Sure- but sometimes it's fun to lean into accent stereotypes.

I grew up in Minnesota and have spent my adult life in Wisconsin, so this book completely resonated with me. It was nostalgia at its best.

I found it funny, charming and fresh. The structure was new to me. The book consists of eight chapters, each of which is a short snapshot of from a different character that is somehow
Oct 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the first half of the book. While it all came together in the end, I didn’t like that the second half really went off on some tangents. If you’re a real foodie, this would probably be a great feel good read.
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J. Ryan Stradal's NYT bestselling debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, won the 2016 American Booksellers Association Indie's Choice Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year, the 2016 SCIBA award for the year's best fiction title, and the 2016 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for debut fiction. His second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, was an instant national bestseller.

Born and raised in Minn

Articles featuring this book

  The United States of America is an awfully big place. Sensibly, we chopped it into states a long time ago. This simplifies...
650 likes · 197 comments
“After decades away from the Midwest, she’d forgotten that bewildering generosity was a common regional tic.” 22 likes
“When Lars first held her, his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back. When mother and baby were asleep in the hospital room, he went out to the parking lot, sat in his Dodge Omni, and cried like a man who had never wanted anything in his life until now.” 12 likes
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