This is the fourth and final installment in Hooked on Cheese’s series focusing on outstanding chefs who reign at restaurants off the beaten path in smaller cities across the USA. Raymond will introduce each of these fantastic chefs de cuisine and share one of their unique recipes with The Daily Meal. Enjoy!
This week, Raymond interviewed chef Tory Miller, the executive chef and co-proprietor of l’Etoile, Graze, and Sujeo restaurants in Madison, Wisconsin. A James Beard Award winner, chef Miller uses Old World cooking methods and international influences to take local farm-raised ingredients to “the next level.” Discover how this culinary star rose so rapidly in the industry, why he loves working in Madison and what makes Wisconsin cheeses so spectacular.
Could you start off by telling us a little bit about your background?
I was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Wisconsin. My grandparents had a restaurant so I kind of grew up in the business. I moved to NYC at 19 to go to The French Culinary Institute [now the International Culinary Center] then worked at Judson Grill with chef Bill Telepan. After six years in New York, I moved back to Madison and worked at l'Etoile under Odessa Piper, who introduced me to farmers in the area.
I love that the restaurant's website lists the specific local farms you source from.
Thanks. When I moved here I fell in love with working with local providers.
Our Chef Series focuses on each chef's connection to their city. Why did you choose to move back to Madison, specifically, after school?
Well, I wanted to get out of NYC and at the time, I was dating someone who loved Madison, so we moved here together. I found I loved the farmers market, the music scene, and the city in general. I still do!
Could you talk about winning the prestigious James Beard Award in 2012?
The experience was pretty incredible. You don't start off your career trying to win a Beard Award; you just want to have a good job in the industry. For me, winning the award was a culmination of all the work I'd done with all the people I'd worked with. I'm friends with Dan Barber [chef and co-owner of the storied Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns] and he presented it to me. Having Dan say my name was incredible — I almost blacked out!
How would you describe the type of cuisine at each of your three restaurants?
L'Etoile is a fine dining, multi-course restaurant with a farm-to-table focus. Graze is more of a gastropub, bistro-type place, but still using local ingredients. Sujeo just opened in August 2014. Its focus is also on using Wisconsin products, but with a Vietnamese/South Asian culinary influence.
[Note: Since this interview took place, chef Miller has announced that he's in the planning stages of an as-yet-unnamed tapas restaurant in downtown Madison to open in Summer 2015.]
Since I'm "The Cheese Guy" at The Daily Meal, which of your three restaurants uses the most cheese?
Definitely Graze. The extensive cheese board at Graze is very popular.
What are your favorite Wisconsin artisan cheeses? American artisan cheeses?
My absolute favorite Wisconsin cheese: the rich, flavorful, 15-year Cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company. I also love Willi Lehner's cheeses from Bleu Mont Dairy. Pugliese is his newest; Willi’s cheeses are very distinctive. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is also great — the king of Wisconsin cheeses.
At my restaurants, we only use cheese from Wisco since the state gives us so many amazing choices. Grass and milk flavor are incredibly important and farmers here are becoming so adaptive and specific with the feed for their animals. Plus, in Wisconsin, a lot of people are willing to experiment with their cheeses, so they’re always exciting.