Review of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal

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.)

Rating: 4/5

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

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16 Responses to Review of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal

  1. Kay says:

    When you said recipes were included, I was hoping that they were for various methods of preparing lutefisk. LOL

    Many seem to be reading this book lately. I’ll have to see if the library has acquired it yet. And I’m still stuck on the lutefisk chapter. Aquarium water? Ick.

  2. I absolutely loved the beginning of this book! But, then I was left feeling a little unfulfilled by how Eva was virtually missing from big chunks of the middle. I just didn’t really care about going so in depth into some of the peripheral characters and wanted more of Eva.

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    Oh my gosh, we read the same book and we felt the same way about it! I loved this book too!

  4. Rachel says:

    Lutefisk sounds disgusting but the book sounds good!

  5. Rita K says:

    I love lutefisk! I grew up eating it even though I am of German heritage. One of my favorite meals was basically white – lutefisk, mashed potatoes and lefsa! Sounds like a book I would like.

  6. Beth F says:

    Can.Not.Wait to read this. I just need to find the time between review reading and working.

  7. Being a Minnesota girl… this intrigued me by the title but your review sold me on it… I want it as well 🙂

  8. Michelle says:

    I have not heard a single bad thing about this book. I really, really, really need to get myself a copy of it!

  9. Tina says:

    Oh my, you had me howling at the description of lutefisk ! This has been on my to -read list for a while.

  10. This sounds absolutely wonderful though you can have my share of the lutefish! I’m glad to know that while this book does have some sadness it doesn’t take over the book. I can’t wait to read it.

  11. This one is on my TBR list, I’m glad to hear that you liked it so much.

  12. Trish says:

    You know you’ve seen Frozen too many times when you recognize lutefisk from the movie (I hadn’t heard of it before and didn’t make the connection until your post). Ick! 😉 But the book sounds really great and if you had a book club meeting with those peanut butter chocolate bars, I’d definitely fly up for that!

  13. Vicki says:

    I’d like to read the book. I’ve seen lutefisk on a few tv shows and thought I might try it if the opportunity ever came up, but after reading the description, I think not.

  14. So glad you reviewed this – I wouldn’t have gone for it based on the title alone. Cheers

  15. I’ve heard so many rave reviews of this book! Glad you enjoyed it, too. I love food and cooking as well as reading, so it sounds like I need to read this one!


    Book By Book

  16. sagustocox says:

    I was wondering if there were recipes about lutefisk.

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