Book review: ‘Kitchens of the Great Midwest’ by J. Ryan Stradal

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

It is helpful to know that “Kitchens of the Great Midwest’’ has a goodly number of characters described in different stages of their lives. Most of the characters are tied to the food industry. Most of the vignettes offered relate to character relationships, though that is not always clear until later. The setting for the stories is Minnesota, though not exclusively.

Eve Thorvald was destined to a trying childhood. Her mother wanted no part of being a mother, abandoning the baby to her father. While Eve was still a baby, her father, a portly chef, died of a heart attack. Eve was raised by her father’s younger brother and his wife. It was only by accident that she learned that Jarl and Fiona were not her real parents. She had been under the impression that the man who had died was her uncle, not her father. And her real mother had never been discussed. She loved her “parents” and wouldn’t do anything to hurt them. They obviously loved he, and if they were a little out of tune with her interests, that was something that could be dealt with. They took pride in getting her things she wanted, and that was how she got the grow lights.

At first, she grew hot chili peppers under the lights. The peppers got her introduced to a quality chef, which in turn spiked her interest in food preparation and the ingredients that made that possible. Eventually she grew her own herbs and vegetables.

During a date at the nearby Steamboat Inn, she impressed the chef when she suggested her walleye had a bit too much rosemary on it, an ingredient not named on the menu. When she could name the remaining preparation ingredients just by taste, she was invited to stop by the kitchen anytime. Her knowledge and interest earned her a part-time job there. An eager learner, she was soon mentored into becoming a skilled chef in her own right.

In the meantime, we are introduced to several other characters. There is Robbie Kramer and Octavia Kincaid. We also meet chef Mitch Diego, along with Jordy and Adam Snelling. Of particular importance is Pat Jorgenson; we are treated to a whole chapter on bars, bar recipes and Pat’s specifically. There must be a reason.

In addition, we are reintroduced to niece Braque and nephew Randy Dragelski. The most important reintroduction, though, is to Cynthia Hargraves, Eve’s birth mother. Cynthia, now a sommelier, has become aware that her daughter is now a chef of some repute. It becomes important for her to meet, or at least see in person, the daughter she left behind. The daughter’s obvious success supports her long-ago decision that Eve would do better without a mother who did not want to be a mother.

The book is full of references to music and bands of the time. Many recipes are offered, as are the names of fine wines. Much of this story involves the experiences of young people. Considerable foul language is used. If you can get past that, it’s a very good read.

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