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Chef Tory Miller prepares a dish in the kitchen at Sujeo, one of four restaurant properties he owns with business partner Dianne Christensen.

L’Etoile's Tory Miller and Underground Collective's Jonny Hunter are the two Madison chefs recognized this year as James Beard Award nominees.

The 2019 James Beard Award nominees were announced Wednesday. The awards are considered the top honor in the culinary world.

Miller is among 20 nominated in the overall category of "Outstanding Chef"; while Hunter was one of 20 in "Best Chef: Midwest."

It's Miller's second time being nominated in the Outstanding Chef category. He was nominated in 2016, but didn't make it into the final five. Miller won in the Midwest category in 2012 and was also nominated in 2011. L'Etoile's wine program was a semifinalist in 2013.

"I just work with incredible people, both in the kitchen and front of the house that support me and motivate me to keep working hard and moving our restaurants forward," Miller said.

He credited his business partner, Dianne Christensen, for furthering his career and allowing him to do the work he does. Miller and Christensen run four restaurants under the Deja Food group. Two other partners left amicably in September, Miller said.

"We all work our (butts) off, spending so much time apart from family, so to be recognized for your work is just amazing. Especially (in) the Outstanding Chef category," he said. "There are some legendary chefs on that list."

Hunter is a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist for "Best Chef: Midwest." The collective's Forequarter restaurant was also nominated for "Best New Restaurant" in the U.S. in 2013.

"It’s such an honor to be listed here but I really have to give credit to the team at Forequarter," Hunter said, pointing to Chef Maggie Roovers, whom he said has become vital to Forequarter, and General Manager Mark Bystrom, who has been at the East Johnson Street restaurant from the beginning. 

Hunter called the James Beard Foundation and got Roovers' name added to the nomination. Bystrom, he said, "cares so much about the quality and environment that we strive toward."

Mel Trudeau, his partner in Underground Collective, "is everything and she deserves all the credit," he added.

Paul Bartolotta and Joe Bartolotta of The Bartolotta Restaurants in Milwaukee were also nominated in the "Outstanding Chef" category. The men run Ristorante Bartolotta, Harbor House, Lake Park Bistro, among others.

Also nominated in the Midwest category were Milwaukee chefs Dane Baldwin (The Diplomat), Karen Bell (Bavette La Boucherie) and Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite (together for EsterEv).

The "Best Chef: Midwest" category includes the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The James Beard Foundation will reveal the finalists March 27. Winners will be announced at a May 6 gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize "culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and furthers the Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone."

Volunteer committees made up of industry professionals oversee the awards program. Winners receive a certificate and a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia.

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