L'Etoile was nominated in the category of "Outstanding Restaurant" Wednesday for a prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Award, considered the top honor in the culinary world.
"That's so incredible," said L'Etoile executive chef and co-owner Tory Miller. "It means a lot for that restaurant and who we are and what we've been doing for the last 40-plus years."
Miller credited his staff, naming L'Etoile chef de cuisine Itaru Nagano and executive sous chef Scott Garthwaite. "They are just incredibly talented and they work so hard there every day. So they deserve it so much."
Dan Fox of Heritage Tavern and Jonny Hunter of Forequarter were nominated for "Best Chef: Midwest." Former Madison chef Justin Carlisle of Ardent in Milwaukee, was nominated in the same category, as was Luke Zahm of Driftless Café in Viroqua.
Twenty chefs were nominated in the Midwest category, which also covers Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The other Wisconsin nominees were Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack in Bay City, a 500-person village on the Mississippi River; Karen Bell of Bavette La Boucherie in Milwaukee; and Thomas Hauck of c.1880 in Milwaukee.
Also in Milwaukee, Paul and Joe Bartolotta of The Bartolotta Restaurants, were nominated for the overall award of "Outstanding Restaurateur." Restaurants in their group include Ristorante Bartolotta, Harbor House and Lake Park Bistro.
Fox and Hunter were semifinalists last year as well. Miller was up for an award in the overall "Outstanding Chef" category last year, but didn't make it into the final five.
Since 1999, 24 Madison chefs or restaurants have been nominated for Beard Awards, mainly in the Midwest category, and two have won: Miller in 2012 and Odessa Piper from L'Etoile in 2001. Piper had been nominated in 1999 and 2001 as well. Miller was nominated in 2011, too. L'Etoile's wine program was a semi-finalist in 2013.
"We've been nominated for wine, but never for restaurant, I don't think. So it's just incredible," Miller said. "It's so different from the chef awards because it's so much of everything that everyone does there to make that restaurant what it is. It just means so much."
The nominees were announced in Los Angeles after the first round of voting by judges, committee members, and previous winners. Semifinalists for the Foundation's restaurant and chef awards are selected from 24,000 online entries.
Winners, who will be announced May 1, receive a certificate and a medallion. There are no cash prizes.
Miller acknowledges that business can be slow some nights at L'Etoile, noting that there's much more competition now.
"We would like to be busier, but there are so many new restaurants out and around Madison," he said. "And dining is changing so much as far as what the trends are... But we've pushed hard to be fine dining and maintain what that is."
To be recognized nationally means so much, Miller said, and hopefully that translates into more people coming to check out what L'Etoile is doing.
"It is definitely an experience like nothing else," he said. "It's something we're really proud of every day."