Book Club Discussion: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

From an early age, Eva is obsessed with food and cooking. What influences shape her interest?  

Oddly, it does not seem to be from any external elements in her life. Her adoptive parents do not take an interest in food. The interest seems to come from some magical imprint left by her father, who was only alive for a few months of her life as an infant. Eva’s real dad mentions that he in chomping at teh bit to feed her all sorts of foods and even places her on the kitchen counter in her carrier so she can smell the food cooking. Her mother is a sommelier and has a sophisticated palate as well. In this was the author sets it up as a genetic predisposition more than anything else.

How would you characterize the Midwest as Stradal paints it in this book? What makes the setting unique and important for this particular story?

I really liked that the book wasn’t set in a big city or culinary capital. Being from the Midwest myself, the pace of life felt familiar. Normally, the kind of food scene Eva becomes involved in requires culinary school and a stint in a big city restaurant. Being in the midwest allows Eva to achieve greatness via a different route, that seems a bit more laid back to me than the cut through kitchens of a big East or West coast city might be.

Stradal structures the novel as a collection of smaller vignettes from many different points of view. What are the advantages of this narrative style?

I really enjoyed getting to know Eva from other people’s points of view. It provided an interesting insight into how various people viewed her or understood her, rather than a more traditional narrative format which just gives you the point of view of the main character. She remained somewhat mysterious as you were left to judge her and get to know her via the viewpoints of others.

At times, Stradal seems to poke fun at foodie culture. Which scenes or exchanges between characters struck you as a strong commentary on this foodie evolution?

The main one that stuck out was the food competition that the lady (what was her name again?) brought her dessert bars to. The language used and the general seriousness of the whole thing seemed to be a tongue in cheek commentary on foodies.

The recipes prepared in Eva’s feast serve as a walk through her memory. How do foods or recipes play a role in your own memory or life story?

I think everyone has foods that they associate with certain times in their life. For me this spans many periods from the boxed chocolate milk I drank every day in elementary school that tasted faintly of cardboard, to my sitting around the table with family eating my grandma’s stuffed peppers, to the blue box mac and cheese I will eat if I am having a terrible day. Food and taste plays a large part in innumerable memories in my life.

Questions from Penguin.

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