Kitchens of the Great Midwest

J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
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Kitchens of the Great Midwest

J. Ryan Stradal

Who is Eva Thorvald?

To her single father, a chef, she’s a pint-sized recipe tester and the love of his life. To the chilli chowdown contestants of Cook County, Illinois, she’s a fire-eating demon. To the fashionable foodie goddess of supper clubs, she’s a wanton threat. She’s an enigma, a secret ingredient that no one can put their finger on. Eva will surprise everyone.

On the day before her eleventh birthday, she’s cultivating chilli peppers in her wardrobe like a pro. Abandoned by her mother, gangly and poor, Eva arms herself with the weapons of her unknown heritage: a kick-ass palate and a passion bordering on obsession.

Over the years, her tastes grow, and so does her ambition. One day Eva will be the greatest chef in the world. But along the way, the people she meets will shape her - and she, them - in ways unforgettable, riotous and profound. So she - for one - knows exactly who she is by the time her mother returns to find out.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is about the family you lose, the friends you make and chance connections that can define a life. Joyful, quirky or brazen, everyone lends their voice to tell Eva’s story - one that’s as heartwarming as it is irresistible, taking the bitter with the sweet.


If you reckon all of us, here in the Great Indulgent Western World, are turning into complete tossers about food then this debut novel is for you. Already receiving huge enthusiasm in the United States, Kitchens of Great Midwest is written by writer, editor and producer funny-man J. Ryan Stradal. It is the story of orphaned Eva Thorvald growing up obsessed with food, tastes and origins. This unusual novel is often funny, frequently poignant and has the added bonus of having recipes here and there.

Stradal, a Californian, floats various writing styles into his one epic story of Eva endeavouring to find her culinary feet, and indeed her birth mother. At times Stradal’s writing is successfully hilarious, although I suspect that many food-lovers out there will feel like their hand has been bitten. Each chapter explores the genesis of a certain dish and explores how Eva uses that taste to inform her next life move. The chilli chapter is unforgettable and illustrates a Monty Python-esque humour from the author. Revenge has never been so audacious. It’s a laugh out loud moment.

Stradel’s debut novel is in the end, though, essentially an assessment of how preoccupied and pretentious our culture has become with food. It seems the wealthy world can be divided into those that desire butter, and those that are content with margarine. So if you are in need of a rollicking good tale about finding contentment, and can survive the guilt of having so many food choices, then grab your single-source coffee, your notebook for jotting down clever dinner-party recipes and settle in.

Chris Gordon is the Events Manager for Readings.

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