Book of the Week

Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Strada. Photo: PA Photo/Quercus
Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Strada. Photo: PA Photo/Quercus

Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.

It’s quite hard to write a review for a book when all you want to do is press it into people’s hands and force them to read it; because this is exactly what I want to do with this brilliant novel.

Eight chapters tell the story of Eva Thorvald from a different character’s point of view. However tangentially they may be connected to her, they take us chronologically through the life of the owner of the most incredible palate.

When Eva’s mother runs off with a sommelier shortly after Eva’s birth, her father - a passionate, if not hugely successful, chef - sets out to instil in her his own love of cooking. Though his plan doesn’t quite go accordingly, it quickly becomes apparent that though she is not the most popular girl at school, Eva is destined for great things.

As she grows up we see her culinary skills develop, from growing, selling and consuming the hottest peppers aged 10, learning how to cook fish following her first date, and dominating a toe-curlingly recognisable supper club, culminating in her becoming the renowned chef behind an elusive pop up restaurant, one at which a plate can come at the cost of $5,000.

J. Ryan Stradal is a TV producer (Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch are amongst the programmes he works on), and this recognition of the very human moments - those which a viewer, reader, listener might connect to - is overwhelmingly apparent here. Moreover, his very funny portrayal of groups of people (from students, to foodies, to suburbians) is spot on.

Funny, bittersweet and joyful, it’s a startlingly brilliant debut. Think Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, but with food, not music.This is the only book I’ve ever given 10/10 to; I urge you to read it.