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Madisonians have witnessed some big changes to the city’s dining scene recently. Restaurants have always come and gone, but a few notable closings have thrown some of us for a loop. In the past three months we’ve said goodbye to two restaurants with chef star power: Sujeo and Forequarter. “Restaurants are scary and they’re not easy to make sustainable,” says Tory Miller, the James Beard Award-winning chef who opened Sujeo about five years ago.
Restaurant owners everywhere navigate tricky business models and a changing dining landscape, but they continue to surprise and delight diners with endlessly creative food and experiences. As Miller closes one chapter with Sujeo, he’s starting another by getting back into the kitchen at L’Etoile, the fine dining restaurant he took over from Odessa Piper in 2005. Jonny Hunter and the Underground Food Collective are gearing up to reopen in the former Forequarter space on East Johnson Street with a new concept. At the same time, Madison is welcoming new restaurants seemingly every week, and a few local chefs are pivoting in their careers to follow their culinary visions.
This is an exciting time in Madison’s food scene. Here’s a look at a few chefs, a few dishes that fly under the radar and a few new opens that we think will be the next big things.
The next few years are going to bring exciting changes to Madison's dining scene, and these five culinary creatives have everything to do with it.
Joe Papach and Shaina Robbins Papach — who each have 20 years of industry experience and are alums of Michelin-starred establishments — are starting a restaurant together in Madison, set to open in spring 2020.
It’s now or never, Itaru Nagano told himself. “Right now I feel like I only have one chance to do my own thing,” says Nagano, the 42-year-old former chef de cuisine at L’Etoile. After six and a half years at L’Etoile, Nagano has announced his plans to open a restaurant in Madison, using years of culinary experience — fine dining and otherwise in kitchens across the U.S. — to create his own concept.
Evan Dannells’ phone rang with multiple job offers the day after he worked his last shift as executive chef of Merchant on New Year’s Eve 2018. What Dannells probably wouldn’t admit is that those calls would have come in anyway, shortage or not, because he’s quietly made a name for himself in the cheffing circuit.
But he didn’t take up any of the chef offers on New Year’s Day.
Instead, he took a part-time consulting job with Pasture & Plenty, which allowed him to start planning his own restaurant. In September, Oliver’s Public House on old University Avenue closed, and in its place on Oct. 2 opened Cadre, a restaurant Dannells can call his own.
Jamie Hoang, former sous-chef at the recently closed Sujeo, shares many similarities with our other “chefs to watch.” Like Itaru Nagano and Evan Dannells, she has experience at L’Etoile, one of the city’s best kitchens. Like Shaina Robbins Papach and Joe Papach, she’s a big fan of Madison and is at a turning point in her career. Despite her quiet, reserved demeanor, she has been a rising star in Madison’s food scene and a great example of female leadership in the kitchen.
What she doesn’t have in common with our other featured chefs is a new restaurant of her own.
In fact, she has no interest in opening a restaurant at this time.
These eight dishes are a reminder that the next big thing isn’t always the newest menu item, nor the food-hall-of-fame item. Sometimes it’s the dish that has been hidden in plain sight the whole time.
Don't walk, run to these new opens.
Andrea Behling is editor of Madison Magazine.
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