Chef Tory Miller packages carryout orders for patrons in the Oct. 3 pop-up food event at The Coffee House on Chestnut and Pine streets. (Photo by Chad Hensiak)

 

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Burlington native Alex Hanesakda, owner of Racine’s SapSap Lao cuisine, and star chef Tory Miller joined forces Oct. 3 at The Coffee House on Chestnut and Pine streets for a pop-up food event.

Miller, raised in Racine, won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest and known as the contestant who defeated celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown in a battle of meats.

Patrick Sullivan, who coordinated the event, said Miller’s appearance is likely the first time Burlington has hosted a chef of this caliber.

“It is an honor to have these world-renowned chefs come to Burlington,” Sullivan said of the duo.

Miller, now of Madison, prepared a Korean fried chicken dinner while Hanesakda delivered Southeast Asian cuisine consisting of Mamma’s Egg Rolls and other Laotian-inspired cuisine.

According to Miller, who has previously collaborated with Hanesakda, the duo sold out of all food at Saturday’s event.

Additionally, Miller said it was one of the first times he has been in Burlington, where he found residents “friendly and welcoming.”

 

Miller’s milestone

Miller went from working in his grandparents’ diner in Racine before moving to New York, where he attended French Culinary Institute.

While in New York, Miller worked his through many of the city’s best kitchens, including Bill Teleran’s Judson Grill and Eleven Madison Park.

The Racine native then returned to Wisconsin and began working for his mentor, Odessa Piper, at L’Etoile, and discovered his true passion for local food through the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

Miller has since taken over L’Etoille and expanded his operations to include three other Madison-area restaurants.

In 2018, six years after winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef, the most prestigious culinary prize awarded, Miller appeared on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown and eventually defeated Flay.

“It was scary and fun,” Miller said about facing Flay. “It was really fun to go against him.”

 

Hometown roots

Hanesakda, a 2000 Burlington High School graduate, said he and Miller collaborated on a similar event in Racine before bringing the feature to his hometown on Saturday.

“I am from Burlington, went to high school here, and grew up around here,” he said, adding he wanted to invite Miller to Burlington.

Hanesakda, like Miller, delivered decades of experience to Saturday’s pop-up event.

His Racine-based restaurant has garnered recognition on the PBS show “Wisconsin Foodie.”

The PBS production shows how Hanesaka buys traditional Asian ingredients at Viet Hoa grocery store on the north side of Milwaukee.

In the episode, he bought lemongrass to make Laotion-style jerky, a fan favorite, which he served on Saturday, and papaya.

Hanesakda demonstrated how to make beef jerky, a recipe he learned from watching his parents, who sought refuge in Wisconsin from war-torn Loas in 1982.

      Correspondent Chad Hensiak contributed to this report.