Chef Odessa Piper of L'Etoile - Biography

Madison, WI

January 2012

Odessa Piper grew up on the New England coast in a large family with a variety of food traditions. Her education continued after high school as she farmed in Canaan, N.H. with a small group dedicated to sustainable agriculture. In 1969 Piper moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she helped her mentor JoAnna Guthrie open a restaurant that featured organic produce grown on JoAnna's farm in Wisconsin's Kickapoo River valley. In her travels between the farm and restaurant Piper discovered the area's native hickory nuts, morels and wild plums. Her excitement with the exceptional quality and diversity of the region's foods inspired her to create menus ever more reliant on season and locality. This was the impetus to open her own restaurant in 1976 which she named L'Etoile, in reference to the culinary 'mother tongue' of her midwest interpretations.

The local Farmer's Market outside L'Etoile's front door continues to provide inspiration and raw material for Piper and her staff. In that spirit, every menu at L'Etoile opens with the dedication: "Choosing lovingly grown food from within our region helps to hold all the communities of life together. This is the happy result of sustainable agriculture. We thank you for supporting the farmers who supply L'Etoile, and for appreciating their commitment to these patient arts."

Piper's commitment to regionally reliant cooking has advanced her menu ideas to White House menus and exposure in a variety of media including Fine Cooking, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Wine Spectator and Sierra. Piper is a frequent contributor to Wisconsin Public Radio and NPR, and is a consultant to The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to assisting many local initiatives for sustainable food Choices, she is a member of the International Women's Forum, and serves on the Board of Chefs Collaborative 2000 and the Scholarship Committee for Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. A Midwest Chef nominee for the Beard House awards, Piper frequently accompanies her husband, wine importer Terry Theise on his travels through France, Germany and Austria. Her projects include opening L'Etoile's Café, developing integrated curriculum for a school of farming and cooking, and compiling a book of L'Etoile's recipes with the philosophy that inspires them. L'Etoile closed in 2005.