Tory Miller: The Farmers' Market Chef Offers a Different Slice
Madison, Wisconsin - Madison Chef Tory Miller is a staple at Dane County farmers' markets. Each weekend, the chef fills his oversized hand cart with only the freshest ingredients to serve at his restaurants Graze and L'Etoile.
On June 3, the James Beard Award Winning Chef brings his farm-to-table philosophy to the Wisconsin Dells for a cooking demonstration and farmers’ market-themed menu, all benefiting the UW Carbone Cancer Center.
Through a brief interview, Chef Miller shares his passion for fresh food, the tricks of his trade, and the value of knowing local farmers on a first-name basis.
With two restaurants and a constant flow of special events, you are a busy man. Why take on an event to benefit the Carbone Cancer Center?
We all lead busy lives, fighting the battles that are worth fighting. Having loved ones who suffer from cancer, I do as much as I can with my cooking. I want my friends and family to feel good from the food I cook, but especially when they are sick. Whether it's for people who come into my restaurants or for someone close to me, preparing something that can actually help a with healing makes a huge difference for me. Participating in an event to benefit cancer research seemed like a natural extension of my desire to use my culinary skills to make a positive impact on this community.
You have an almost obsessive desire to obtain the freshest and best food for your patrons. What kind of tips will you be giving folks who attend A Different Slice?
It will be an interesting time of year [so early in the growing season], so I plan to walk people through my farmers’ market experience. I’ll explain what I look for when shopping and how to find quality items, whether there are many or few choices available. I plan to demonstrate how I come up with a recipe when I find the ingredients I like. Some people look at a recipe and then search for ingredients. For me it’s the opposite - I want to find the freshest, most interesting food first and then create something delicious from what I discover.
You’ve been at the forefront of a movement to simplify the process of transporting food from the farm and to the dinner table. What’s the value of being involved on every level of the food production chain?
My philosophy has always been to shorten the distance between the field and the fork. By doing this, we can ensure that we’re doing our best to source quality and environmentally sound products for our guests.
Wisconsin farmers have become quite innovative with their planting patterns to make the most of the growing season. I’ve become so close to them that I know growing trends almost as much as they do. In the end, it’s the only way I can serve my passion – and patrons to Graze and L’Etoile.
While teams of researchers at the UW Carbone Cancer Center study how healthy eating can reduce cancer rates in Wisconsin, there is also a movement to educate the public about the value of how food actually gets to our plates. How do you see yourself as an advocate for the eat local/buy local movement?
When it comes to locally-sourcing food, Wisconsin is so far ahead of the curve. Healthy lifestyles go along with food that tastes good, is good to eat and is raised with care. In buying local, we watch our food dollar go right back into the community, boosting local economy and agriculture.
Putting a face to the food is also very essential to my rationale. Each week, I feel the amazement of getting to talk to the people who actually grow the food. Each farmer’s pride in their product motivates me to cook my best. My motto is never to ruin the perfect ingredients that I find each week.
Your favorite meal to eat?
[Laughs] My favorite food to eat right now is fresh goat cheese. We just purchased some from a local farm and I just can’t stop eating it. We have 75 pounds of this cheese - well maybe 72 pounds by now since I’ve sampled so much of it. I can’t wait to get creative with this tasty ingredient.
Date Published: 05/18/2013