Around the Cheese Board with Chef Tory Miller

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by Wisconsin Cheese

Executive chef and co-proprietor of Madison’s L’Etoile and Graze, and Wisconsin Cheese Chef Ambassador, Chef Tory Miller, is passionate about delicious food and exquisite ingredients. Chef Tory Miller’s culinary creations begin with locally grown, sustainable ingredients cultivated by over 200 Wisconsin farmers.

When Chef Tory Miller talks about local, farm-raised ingredients, his face lights up. When he talks about Wisconsin Cheese, the entire room lights up–or at least it appears so.

How He Started Cooking: I grew up in the restaurant industry and then studied at the French Culinary Institute. After that I worked at several restaurants in New York before arriving at L’Etoile as Odessa Piper’s Chef de Cuisine. Odessa sold L’Etoile to my sister Traci and me in 2005, and in 2007 we were joined by Dianne Christensen [co-proprietor]; together we began planning a larger space for L’Etoile and the addition of a gastropub, Graze.

On Opening Graze: It was important that it be casual. We’re able to do more things at Graze–be more playful and use a different selection of cheeses–such as the Bread Cheese from Brunkow Cheese and Widmer’s Brick Cheese Spread.

On Cheese at Graze: At Graze we started off with five cheeses on our cheeseboard and soon we went to ten. We tend to rotate our cheese board monthly and we always have tastings with the staff when we pick up a new cheese. Willi Lehner’s Bleu Mont Blue is one of our best sellers. Recently we started featuring Dunbarton Blue by Roelli Cheese. It’s another popular cheese. Everybody loves it. I ordered some on Thursday, it came on Tuesday, and I had to order more that night. I think it’s exciting that we have so many great cheeses right here in Wisconsin that people are enjoying.

Cheese of the Moment: SarVecchio–I use it so much. I love cheese and it is one of the cheeses that I devour like potato chips. It’s hard not to love Rush Creek Reserve by Uplands Cheese right now. It is a unique and delicious cheese. Of course, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a favorite. I see a lot of the cheese producers as part of our family–Willi Lehner [Bleu Mont Dairy], Uplands Cheese, Tony Hook [Hook’s Cheese]. I get to see those guys every week. We bring our staff out to their places to learn about where the cheese comes from. Mike and Carol Gingrich [Uplands Cheese] were just here the other night. Mike says, “I’ve had this ham, aging in my basement, and I don’t know what to do with it.” I told him, “Bring it in. We’ll slice it up for you!”

On Purchasing Farm-to-Table: We’re dedicated to buying as much local as we can and opening Graze was a great step for our farm-to-table initiative. Our buying power as a local supporter grew exponentially when we had a second restaurant–more cheese, more milk, more produce.

On Cooking Farm-to-Table: There’s a lot more work to be done when we’re cooking this way. We don’t have a food truck pull up every week. We make everything from scratch–even the bread. If we can teach people how to do things as a craft, we’re there. One of our core values here is not to overwhelm customers with too much farm-to-table information. We have a chalkboard wall that features local cheeses from our cheeseboard each month. Soon we’ll also feature a “farmer of the month” and “dish of the month.” People can reference the chalkboards for more information, but they aren’t front-and-center. We support farm-to-table because we can and because this is how we want to cook. In the kitchen we always say, “We don’t talk about it. We be about it.”

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