Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal centers around the life of a young chef, Eva Thorvald. Through shifting narratives we follow Eva as a young girl growing exotic habaneros, see her struggle to support her father while interning at a restaurant, fall foolishly in love and finally start her own exclusive dinner club. The story weaves around her, told by: her father, a culinary rival, a cousin and other acquaintances, each perspective adding a bit of color to her portrait.
Stradal's first novel reads like a love letter to the Midwest, specifically Minnesota where he grew up. Details about the Swedish population and lutefisk, farmer's markets and country fair bake-offs give the story a realness. This authentic-ness is also in the characters; each has their own struggles and flaws. As each character is introduced we learn about them and their connection to Eva just briefly, until the next chapter where the next character is waiting to be revealed. This style makes for compelling reading and really drives to the end where we see how everyone connects.