By Alexa Miller | Photos by Ally Dweck
Chef Tory Miller creates award-winning dishes in his Madison restaurants, but still loves making fried chicken and homemade pasta for his family.
Miller’s eagerness to cook began when he worked at his grandparents’ diner in Racine, Wisconsin. Pursuing his passion, Miller took the leap and moved to one of the largest food hubs in America, New York City.
Miller laughed at some of his first days in the city and emphasized that it wasn’t easy.
“I didn’t know anyone there at the time. I didn’t have a place to live. I flew out there with some bags and it was daunting in the beginning,” Miller said.
After attending the French Culinary Institute in New York, he decided it was time to return to the dairy state. Now, as a distinguished chef, Miller owns L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo and Estrellón, each of which offers guests a special perspective on the Madison food scene.
“Four different parts of my brain are getting activated with my restaurants, but everyone knows my favorite is Sujeo. I love Asian food and casual vibes,” Miller said.
Miller grins as he describes his style as a chef: cooking what he wants to eat. While Miller’s success could have brought him to other parts of the country, there is no place like home.
“The farmers and the taste of place, the terroir, are very prevalent in Madison. It’s really hard to connect with that and leave because, as a chef, it’s really where you want to be,” Miller said.
The iconic chef is relaxed as he talks about his experiences. However, he is serious as he talks about programs like Cooking Healthy Options in Wisconsin Schools (CHOW).
“I felt the need to connect with Madison and help the way we feed our kids in schools,” Miller said.
While Madison is not typically thought of as a leader in trendy eats and fine dining, Miller’s unique style and commitment to customer experience prove otherwise. The chef with colorfully tattooed arms caught the attention of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef.”
“When they first asked, I wasn’t ready to do it or wasn’t sure if it was something I really wanted to do. But, probably about ten years later, I decided I was down,” Miller said.
His team competed against Bobby Flay in “Battle of the Bison.” As the first Madison citizen to compete on the show, Miller understood he was not only representing his restaurants in the competition, but also his Wisconsinite and Korean roots.
“Our Bison menu was full on Asian food, and for me, I am Korean adoptee who didn’t know my parents. To be able to make Asian food the way I like to make it and have it be the winning menu and be really well-received from the judges was nerve-wracking but so rad,” Miller said.
So, what’s next for Chef Miller?
“I keep competing in my own four walls and try to get better and challenge myself to do the next big thing. So, who knows what’s next.”