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Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

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August 2015 Debut of the Month.

The life of Eva Thorvald from conception through to fame in her late twenties. This is an extraordinary book, laced with food and recipes, it gives us sections of her life through the stories of those involved with her, beginning with her parents. Covering bullying and escape at 11, a school crush at 17, a potential lover at 20, cousins, friends and friends of friends, eight vinaigrettes which are almost short stories that all link into Eva. It is rich in character, sensitive and tender, an interesting, intriguing way to portray an ambitious girl who becomes a great chef. The book turns full circle which is delightful. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher...

'J. Ryan Stradal has written a book that everyone at Quercus has taken to their hearts – perhaps because he has written it, with such conviction, wit and energy, from his own. It has the measure of an irresistible hit.’ Jon Riley, Editor in Chief Quercus

If you like J. Ryan Stradal you might also like to read books by Anne Tyler, Joanne Harris and Fannie Flagg.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Rachel Anderson - 'An unusual, bitter-sweet novel for those who love food.'
  • Sarah Harper - 'A gorgeously well-crafted study of human nature and the important role food plays in our lives. Astutely observed, funny and poignant, the recipes are just the icing on the cake!'
  • Alison Bisping - 'I struggled with this book, although overall I did enjoy it. It took a while to get into it and I think for me, would be better with a second read.'
  • Lisa Wise - 'An unusual culinary tale of a young girl's journey to womanhood.'
  • Claire Simms - 'Eva Thorvald is a top chef. The story follows her career from the early days of growing chillies in the  wardrobe to the height of her career.'
  • Kelly Silcox - 'A story of how your family and people you meet in life can help define who you are.'
  • Catherine Price - 'This terrific read is less about the kitchens of America and more about the people who helped and hindered enigmatic chef Eva Thorvald. An original and hugely enjoyable novel of delicious food and lasting relationships.'
  • Ann Peet - 'Quirky, bittersweet, and original novel about family, friends and food.'
  • Humaira Kauser - 'This novel is a work of art. Highly recommend this book to any foodies out there.'
  • Liz Bloomer - 'A thoroughly enjoyable book to read and read in one sitting! The story tells of the external impacts on Eva's life from the moment she was born to when, as an adult, she becomes a successful chef.'
  • Angie Rhodes - 'Buy it, read it devour it, you won’t be disappointed.'
  • Phylippa Smithson - 'I don’t usually like short stories but this is more a series of discrete parts. Clever, clever stuff that is great fun to read.'
  • Edel Waugh - 'This was a surprising story about love, family, and at the centre food! Delicious recipes are included in the book and there are many mouthwatering descriptions throughout the story.'
  • Jennifer Moville - '...hilariously funny and yet touching. This book would be fabulous made into a movie - I heartily recommend it - truly captivating.'
  • Glenda Worth - 'There are any recipes included and each chapter is named after a food. A quirky novel which shows how family life evolves with friends and strangers linking the different food dishes together.'
  • Helen Appleby - 'This is the story of Eva Thornvald and how her love of chillies and cooking as a child has led her to grow up into an amazing chef admired by all and explores the live events that have got her there.'


Kitchens of the Great Midwest by 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 do her ambitions. 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. 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.


''A big-hearted, funny, and class-transcending pleasure. It's also both a structural and empathetic tour de force, stepping across worlds in the American Midwest, and demonstrating with an enviable tenderness and ingenuity the tug of war between our freedom to pursue our passions and our obligations to those we love'
Jim Shepard

'From the quite literally burning passions of a lonely eleven-year-old girl with an exceptional palate, to the ethical dilemmas behind a batch of Blue Ribbon Peanut Butter Bars, J. Ryan Stradal writes with a special kind of meticulous tenderness - missing nothing and accepting everything. A superbly gratifying debut'
Meg Howrey

'In Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a charming, fast-moving round robin tale of food, sensuality and Midwestern culture, Mr Stradal has delivered one extremely tasty, well- seasoned debut in what is sure to be a long and savory career' Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black

About the Author

J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal's writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattling Wall, McSweeney's: The Goods, and Hobart, among other places, and he edits the fiction section of The Nervous Breakdown. Born and raised in Minnesota, he now lives in Los Angeles, where he co-hosts a literary-culinary events series called Hot Dish and has worked as a TV producer, notably for Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch. He does not own a gun and a motorcycle, which makes him unique among the men in his extended family.

Author pic © Anna Pasquarella

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Book Info

Publication date

6th August 2015


J. Ryan Stradal

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Quercus Publishing


320 pages


Literary Fiction
Debuts of the Month
Relationship Stories
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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