The rest of the country learned Wednesday night what diners in Madison have known for 14 years: Chef Tory Miller’s cuisine reigns supreme.

Madison’s best-known chef emerged victorious on a national stage, winning a Food Network “Iron Chef Showdown” against Jenner Tomaska of Next Restaurant in Chicago using potatoes and then going on to beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay by preparing bison.

Miller is holding a six-course, $125-a-plate dinner at L’Etoile Sunday in which he will prepare the same menu as what was featured on the show. A few spots remained late Wednesday.

About 70 people — friends, family, fans — packed the bar of Estrellón for a viewing party, and included many of the same faces who turned out in the same place Dec. 13 when the episode was originally slated to air.

It got louder in the room during key parts of the show than a Madison sports bar can be with the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team in the Final Four.

The final score of the “Iron Chef Showdown” was Miller 41, Flay 38.

Miller said he beat the celebrity chef by cooking his “super Asian-y food.” He said he knew if he got to compete against Flay in the second round, he had a good chance of winning with the team that he had.

He was able to bring sous chefs Itaru Nagano, L’Etoile’s chef de cuisine, and Desiree Nudd, formerly of Estrellón, to Los Angeles for the taping. Nudd now works in Chicago.

“Thanks for coming twice,” Miller told the crowd after his win, and then reminded everyone that the Food Network’s unexpected delay of the show was not his fault.

Months-long confidence

Miller had been keeping the secret of his win from everyone except his wife, pastry chef Kristine Miller, since the show taped last summer. He was unable to say how he fared on the show, or even what ingredients he used in the dishes he prepared.

During his first challenge, Miller’s dish involved hash-browned russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, chorizo, shiitake mushrooms and a fried egg. Host Alton Brown criticized Miller’s fried egg for being “hideously undercooked,” but knocked Tomaska’s offering, as more of a halibut dish than a potato dish, and for having bland and under-seasoned fish.

In the first “Battle of the Bison” course against Flay, the two tied 8-8. Flay made a bison slider, while Miller created a bison carrot summer roll. Judge Giada De Laurentiis called the flavor of Miller’s dish “spectacular.” But it was her second comment, that it was “unexpectedly fantastic,” that had the crowd erupt in cheers.

The judges gushed over Miller’s other bison dishes: bison pho with bison meat balls, bison bibimbap, a bison larb with cucumbers, and a bison gnocchi with local bandaged cheddar.

“Go, Tory!” said Mustafa Emirbayer, a longtime Miller devotee and fan of all of Miller’s restaurants. In addition to L’Etoile and Estrellón, the chef’s Deja Food Group owns Graze and Sujeo.

“Go, Tory!” added Emirbayer’s wife, Amy Frederick, before the program.

“He may not beat Bobby Flay tonight, but he’s long since won our admiration,” Emirbayer said ahead of the program. “Tory Miller is the First Citizen of Madison, and that’s first with a capital F and citizen with a capital C. He’s a treasure.”

The couple came last month when the program was mysteriously bumped and Frederick said they were just as excited to return Wednesday.

Frederick predicted the outcome. “If he does what he does at his restaurants every day” there is every reason Miller should win, she said.


Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.