As Executive Chef for both Graze and L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin, Tory Miller chooses only the finest farm-fresh ingredients from his local producers. At his restaurant, Chef Miller produces a grand selection of artisan cured meats, breads, butters, fruit preserves, pastas, pickled vegetables—all from scratch.
Why source sustainable food from local suppliers?
The short answer? It just makes the most sense. The best food is grown closest to you, and while sometimes it might be cheaper to buy food that is produced elsewhere, it doesn’t taste as good. When you are a part of a community, what’s more sustainable than trying to support that community?
Has your restaurant been affected by the drought, ocean acidification, or any other changes in climate?
Yes. One of our apple growers only got 7% of the yield that he normally has. Many others lost a lot of their plants and had to charge higher prices. As a restaurant, you can’t always pass along those higher costs to your guests. There’s a limit to what the market can bear. So everyone has to work together, and basically suck it up.
Are there any other challenges you’ve encountered in trying to find local suppliers of sustainable food?
Everything is a challenge, but you have to learn to accept what’s available to you. People ask me all the time—is there anything that is being done or grown where you are that you need? And I never really think about it like that. If I don’t have it, I don’t need it.
If you could change or accomplish one thing that would make local, sustainable food more accessible, what would that be?
I would love to see some kind of subsidies given to small family farms, and to restaurants that support them, to be able to lower their costs and thus their prices. If a certain percentage of your income comes directly from using local agriculture, it would be great to receive a percentage back.
How do you think climate change will affect agriculture and the restaurant industry in the future?
I feel as though people will see a shift in the way that they eat here in Wisconsin. Things are becoming ripe earlier in the year. The biggest change this season was seeing corn, tomatoes, blueberries, Brussels sprouts and winter squash on tables at the same time. Food can only grow as long as it can grow, so if the climate keeps changing, we’re going to continue to see lots of short growing seasons.
Photo credit: Tom Kirkman and Samantha Egelhoff.