From the first chapter – the first few pages, even, you know this book is something special.
The story follows the life of Eva Thorvald, from her time as a much-loved infant to her status as a legendary chef.
Eva’s father Lars grew up having to making lutefisk, a traditional Norwegian fish dish, for the Minnesota Norwegians where he grew up. (Lutefisk, as Lars explained, “when perfectly prepared, looked like jellied smog and smelled like boiled aquarium water.”) Lars’s father had Lars and his brother Jarl prepare the fish because they hated it so much, and therefore wouldn’t eat it.
As soon as Lars could, he left his home in Duluth for Minneapolis, where he trained to become a chef. He married a waitress at his restaurant, and he and Cynthia soon had a baby girl, Eva, born in 1989.
The way in which Lars adored Eva knew no bounds, and he endeavored to train her to have a palate as sensitive as his own, and indeed, he was successful. (The first chapter is particularly hilarious as Lars plans what he will feed his infant, and describes the droll reaction of the obstetrician.)
As we follow Eva through her childhood, we learn how food and cooking defined her life, and how invitations to her “pop-up supper club” became the hottest ticket in the U.S. Waiting lists were years long, and guests paid thousands of dollars for the privilege.
At the story’s end, many of the characters we met in the beginning reappear in a conclusion that brings this full-course meal of a story to a delightful conclusion.
Discussion: There are some deeply tragic parts to this story, but Stradal never lets you get submarined by them; he ushers you through the rooms of the plot and keeps you moving past them, just as you would have to do in real life. Bad stuff happens and you adjust. In this book, too, you metaphorically keep moving through the chapters, named for the type of food that plays a central role in each. (Chapter One, for example, is named Lutefisk.)
Note: Recipes are included in the book (such as for peanut butter chocolate chip bars), that would make a fine accompaniment to a book club discussion.
Published by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Viking Penguin, 2015