J. Ryan Stradal Draws Inspiration from S.D. in 2017 One Book

J. Ryan Stradal will be featured as the One Book Author at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Rapid City and Deadwood Sept. 21-24. He'll kick off the Festival Sept. 20 with a special book discussion and meal at the Racing Magpie in Rapid City. Click below to buy tickets today before they sell out!

One Book Author Kicks Off S.D. Tour in Sioux Falls July 17

By Ryan Woodard

J. Ryan Stradal's hit debut novel features an ambitious "foodie" named Eva Thorvald who grows up in the Midwest and later finds fame and fortune as a traveling chef. Her cuisine is second to none.

But she isn't a highly-trained graduate of an upscale West Coast cooking school, where proximity to the ocean and grandiose Hollywood appetites lend themselves to an abundance of Guy Fieri types.

Rather, she hones her culinary skills where farmers, ranchers and fishermen vastly outnumber actors and celebrities. Where casseroles and cornfields are more common than fancy vineyards and expensive vino.

Minnesota. Iowa. Wisconsin.

And South Dakota.

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" follows Thorvald's journey from an orphan with an unusually keen palate to humble kitchen helper to an A-list celebrity chef whose eager patrons pay a small fortune just to taste her cooking.

Stradal, a 2016 Festival of Books presenter, returned to South Dakota July 17-20 to discuss his popular novel. He'll also appear as the keynote speaker in September for the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood.

One Book S.D. Author J. Ryan Stradal visited the Black Hills often as a child.

One Book S.D. Author J. Ryan Stradal visited the Black Hills often as a child.

South Dakota's Starring Role

So how did South Dakota end up in a book penned by an author television producer from California? (NON-SPOILER ALERT: you'll have to read the book to find out how South Dakota fits into the novel).

"I really wanted to mention South Dakota in the book, and for good reason," Stradal explained from his Los Angeles home. "I really loved South Dakota growing up and went there through my childhood and teen years with family and friends."

The 2017 One Book South Dakota author grew up in Minnesota. He bonded quickly with the landscape west of his childhood home during Stradal family trips to the Black Hills, where they would hike, camp and see attractions like Mount Rushmore. J. Ryan would later embark on an annual trip to Custer State Park with his high school buddies.

"The Black Hills is probably my dad's favorite vacation destination," he said. That's why he jumped at the chance to steer Eva to the Sunshine State.

"I really relish the ability of the narrative to place itself there, and I just ran with it."

It didn't hurt that South Dakota has some of the best walleye fishing in the world.

"I really wanted to set a really crucial part of the story in an area that's known for its walleye fishing," he said. "I could have just as easily set that chapter in Minnesota or other parts of the Midwest."

But his fondness for South Dakota made it an easy choice.

Food, Family and the Harvest

Fishing and hunting play a prominent role in "Kitchens."

Stradal feels his novel is a bit of an anomaly among food books because he explores the harvest part of the process, venturing past the typical discussion of ingredients and preparation. For Stradal, it comes down to food and family (and Black Hills vacations, of course). Cooking is important to the Stradals, as is eating what you harvest in the field or stream.

"There's a sophisticated awareness of options when it comes to a person feeding themselves or their family, and a lot of it's really great. But I didn't want to lose sight of the traditions that Midwestern families have and mine has."

That's why the character Eva, a fisherman herself, is more likely to catch and cook a walleye herself than have salmon flown in from Alaska. It also explains, perhaps, why the virtuoso chef has encyclopedic knowledge of locally-grown foods and refuses anything but the freshest ingredients.

It's safe to say that the Midwest, and specifically South Dakota, had as much of an impact on Stradal as it did on the iconic character he created. After all, it led to the creation of a beloved novel.

The seed for "Kitchens" was planted long before Stradal began vacationing in the Black Hills, however.

"I had been wanting to write a novel pretty much my whole life," he said.

Walleye is a specialty dish of Eva Thorval, star chef of J. Ryan Stradal's

Walleye is a specialty dish of Eva Thorvald, star chef of J. Ryan Stradal's "Kitchens of the Great Midwest."

Inspiration from Mother

It started when his mother returned to college to pursue an English degree. Young J. Ryan was in elementary school at the time, and his mother's studies intrigued him. "Watching her read around the house was inspiring to me," he said.

Stradal stayed inspired. He also stayed the course of studiousness, resisting the common temptation that is teenage rebellion.

"I was a prompt and obedient kid, so I was trying to please my parents, not rankle them. I was thinking, 'what would make them happy? If I wrote a book, that would please them.' I really enjoyed the act of writing, in particular."

(Young readers, please cut out the above paragraph and tape it to your wall. We promise your parents won't mind).

Deadliest Catch to 'Kitchens'

When Stradal, a successful television producer who notably worked on Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" and the History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers," finally started the novel, it was with the intention of creating a book his family would enjoy (again, he is a people pleaser). But, perhaps more importantly, he wanted to create a book he would enjoy himself.

"I felt like, 'I'm just going to do what a lot of novelists do and write the book that I would buy if it existed.'"

He figured his family and a few friends might get a kick out of the book, and that would be about it. He hardly expected it to debut at No. 19 on the New York Times Bestseller List, or get optioned for film and television rights by Warner Brothers.

Being chosen as the One Book South Dakota author in a state where he has enjoyed so many memories and adventures is yet another stunning, if welcome, turn of events. He is thrilled and honored to serve out his duties as One Book author, which includes a visit in South Dakota next week for the book tour, and again in September for the South Dakota Festival of Books.

"To have an entire state say 'we really like your book' really floored me," he said.

Want More Information?

For more information about Stradal and other 2017 Festival presenters, visit the South Dakota Festival of Books home page. 

Stradal appeared in Pierre, Watertown and Sioux Falls in July. He will make a stop in Rapid City Sept. 20 before being featured as keynote speaker at the Deadwood event.  

Want some tools for your next book club meeting with "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" as the featured selection? Download the free book club kit created by Stradal, which includes sample recipes from the book, music selections and more. 

Tickets are still available for One Book Tour events.