L’Etoile award-winning, shining star power

By the time Best of Madison rolled around in 1981, L’Etoile was well on its way to institution status. Now, it has won 61 total awards.
plate of food from L'Etoile
Photo by Samantha Egelhoff

When it comes to fine dining, there’s one spot in Madison that often comes to mind first — L’Etoile. Since Odessa Piper opened L’Etoile in 1976, it’s become a special occasion restaurant, a romantic destination and a place to enjoy gourmet, French-inspired cuisine. L’Etoile joined the Madison food scene at a time when farm-to-table fare wasn’t a concept as widely recognized or embraced as it is today. When Piper opened L’Etoile, the Dane County Farmers’ Market had only existed on Capitol Square a few years. Throughout the ’80s, Piper put even more of a focus on creating seasonal dishes using locally produced meats and vegetables.

By the time Best of Madison rolled around in 1981, L’Etoile was well on its way to institution status. L’Etoile won its first Best of Madison award for gourmet restaurant in 1984 and racked up nine total gourmet restaurant designations before that category was retired. During Piper’s era, she won best chef in 1997 and 1998 (she also became a James Beard Foundation winner for Best Chef: Midwest in 2001 after being a nominee in 1999 and 2000). L’Etoile went on to snag honors for expensive thrill, desserts, custard, restaurant service, place to celebrate, waitstaff, customer service, upscale restaurant and romantic atmosphere. When Piper handed the culinary reins to new owner Chef Tory Miller in 2005, the restaurant had won 25 Best of Madison awards and established a legacy of excellence in the Madison area.

Tory Miller holding a plate of chicken in L'etoile

Photo by Keni Rosales

Miller, a James Beard Foundation award-winner himself for his work at L’Etoile, maintained that legacy of excellence, not only locally, but nationally. The first year under his direction, L’Etoile won in the upscale restaurant category. Every year since then it has been recognized for upscale dining (18 total awards) and Miller (pictured left) has won eight best local chef awards along with being named Madison Magazine’s Chef of the Year in 2009. Now celebrating its 45th year, L’Etoile continues its commitment to supporting local farmers and food purveyors as Piper originally intended. If you get to the farmers’ market early enough, you might be able to catch Miller strolling the booths and chatting with vendors while planning seasonal menus and sourcing the upscale dinners that have made L’Etoile, so aptly named, a shining star.

Read more about the Best of Madison Legacy Awards here.

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