Monday, May 25, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Title:  Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Author:  J. Ryan Stradal
Publication Information:  Pamela Dorman Books. 2015. 320 pages.
ISBN:  052542914X / 978-0525429142

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Lars Thorvald loved two women."

Favorite Quote:  "Still, fear is a choice, she reminded herself, and why choose it?"

Eva Thorvald is now a world famous chef; her table is one of the most coveted dining reservations around. With a price tag of $5,000 per person and a waiting list years long, being part of The Dinner by Eva is a life event.

But who is Eva? What life journey has brought her to this point?

It all begins with her father Lars, a young chef himself. The book description tells us that Lars raises Eva as a single father and starts her love of food. This book is completely not what I expected based on its description.

Each chapter tells the story of one step in Eva's culinary journey, with recipes included here and there. What is unexpected is that the chapters are truly vignettes of a time and a place, and they are written from the perspective of a different character. In fact, some of the chapters include only a cameo appearance by Eva. Thus, all we learn about Eva is through the eyes of others. Her father Lars. Her cousin Randy, the black sheep of his family. A rival Octavia. A home baker entering a contest in which Eva is a judge. The brother of Eva's boyfriend. Some of the characters are as memorable as Eva herself. Many of the chapters come to an abrupt ending, but, in this book, it works. Just keep track of the main characters in each chapter for you never know when they might reappear in the story.

The individual chapters are in turn hilarious and heartbreaking. The two saddest moments are Lars' despair when his wife Cynthia abandons him and baby Eva; and the matter of fact revelation that Eva knows the truth of her past. Although the book never reveals Eva's thoughts and emotions about her situation, they are easily imagined.

The funniest moment in the book is the discussion between Lars and the pediatrician about the appropriate diet for an infant. Lars wants to introduce his daughter to the flavors of the world, from pork shoulder to carrot cake. The pediatrician suggests breast milk and formula only for the first few months. Lars' reaction, "That's awful."

A close second is the chapter when a home maker enters her prize winning peanut butter bars into a much larger competition. This brings her into a world of ingredient lists and discussion of whether her dish is vegan, organic, gluten-free, GMO-free, locally sourced, and other such foodie topics. She wonders how people can call their concoctions food, and others wonder how she refuses to be mindful of people dietary restrictions. It's as if the two types of cooks speak a different language. A classic statement is her response to the question if her ingredients are locally sourced. "Yeah ... they're from the store about a mile from my house."

My thought at the beginning of the book ... Detailed descriptions of lutefisk and its aroma ... I am not so sure about this book. My reaction at the end ... It's over? ... But wait, what happens next? I want to know more. A fun book for foodies and non-foodies alike.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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