Every state capitol building must, by law or simply deference, be a few feet shorter than the one belonging to the nation in Washington, D.C. It would be disingenuous … nearly irresponsible … for a show with the state’s name in its title, to eschew a visit.

We had already made our way to Madison this past summer when we filmed and sampled beer at “The Great Taste of the Midwest,” but our cameras and crew were across the lake and in the open summer air. For this episode, we chose winter, the hallowed halls of the capitol building, and the exceptional kitchen of L’Etoile situated on the Capitol Square.

L’Etoile broke culinary ground over 30 years ago. Founder Odessa Piper worked only within the parameters of what would eventfully come to be called things like “sustainable agriculture,” “Slow Food,” “regionally reliant cuisine” and “farm to fork.”

For Piper, it was simply the only way to honor the place in which she was cooking, and the dishes she wanted to make even more exceptional with top local ingredients from people who loved growing or raising them. In her words, L’Etoile uses “a large network of small scale farms.” With this approach, now en vogue in the culinary world, L’Etoile was country, when country wasn’t cool.

Exceptional in one other way, Chef Piper and now executive chef and proprietor Tory Miller have kept L’Etoile at a such a high level of cuisine for so long, they are now a touch-stone in the region for how to do it on one’s own terms, for the long run.

Having taken the reins several years ago, Chef Miller was vetted under Chef Bill Telepan of New York’s Judson Grill fame. Manhattan, still being the place to cut your teeth as chef, Tory returned to the Midwest to stretch out his talents. Combining ingredients from some of L’Etoile’s 206 local farms, Chef Miller made me one of the best meals of my life — sincerely. Dry-aged sirloin (from the upstate farm where he and his wife were married), with bone marrow butter, garnished by an amazing winter spinach side. Chef fireworks abound these days, but the proof is in the palate. I honestly found myself craving the meal days later.

L’Etoile has long been a bit of a Mecca for Foodies throughout the state and the region. In Tory Miller’s talented and affable hands, it is great to know one of our state’s treasures is safe.

Kyle Cherek

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