By Arielle Windham, Empowered by Ladyboss Lifestyle
Recipe for Success
Bismarck Chef Elevates Midwest Flavors to the World Culinary Stage
When chef Stephanie Miller took the stage in the 2022 season of Top Chef, she was prepared for a tough competition. It had already taken years to get through the audition process. When she got to the show, she found herself going head-to-head with renowned chefs from across the globe. Through several rounds, she raced against the clock and the discerning judges’ palates.
“Top Chef was an exciting experience,” Miller said. “Stressful, but exciting. The drama on the show is intense. Stress is just a natural part of the job in the kitchen, but this was no joke. It was amazing to see my fellow contestants’ caliber under stress.”
The most important lesson Miller learned from her time on Top Chef, though, was a personal one. “I’m a Midwesterner,” Miller said. “I love taking traditional Midwestern flavors and elevating them. In the show, I wasn’t cooking what I wanted to cook. Doing that round after round helped me discover where my heart is. Right here.”
Like most Midwesterners, Miller’s first cooking memory is sitting on the counter at her grandma’s house during the holidays. The dishes were quintessential Midwestern comfort food and always delicious. During her culinary training, she immersed herself in techniques and dishes from around the world, but at the end of the day, she always came back to the flavors of home.
Butterhorn, Miller’s flagship restaurant in downtown Bismarck, is a prime example of how she looks to blend traditional and fine dining.
“Butterhorn is a traditional Norwegian yeasted bread, usually with icing,” Miller said. But skipping the sweet drizzle and serving it at the start of the meal allows this soft, buttery bread to shine. Midwest—elevated.
Miller takes a similar approach to the rest of the dishes on the menu, pairing fresh, locally sourced ingredients with the comforting flavors of grandma’s kitchen for a unique fine-dining experience
Learning to Stand the Heat
While she’s become somewhat of a celebrity chef in the region, and locals and visitors alike make sure to eat at Butterhorn, Miller admits being a chef and restaurateur in the current economy isn’t easy. An explosion of cooking shows and the rise of celebrity chef culture puts a somewhat glamorous shine on the hard, often physically demanding reality of life in the kitchen.
“It’s a difficult profession,” Miller said. She admits that equality in the kitchen has come a long way in a short time, with more and more women taking lead roles in the kitchen and in facility management, but the long hours and inconvenient schedules make culinary life challenging for both women and men.
“Anyone who wants to be a chef or own a restaurant, I try to help them understand how time-consuming it is,” Miller said. “You’re working 12-hour days, nights, and weekends. You end up missing all the holidays because it’s your busiest time.”
That’s not to say she wants to discourage those interested in the culinary path. Only caution them. The chef yelling obscenities at his staff is pure Hollywood, but it is a profession that values the experience you gain working your way up the culinary ladder. She recommends spending time in the trenches—washing dishes, bussing tables, peeling vegetables. Get to know the industry before jumping in feet first.
Tastes of Success
So why do it? The stress. The long hours. The challenges of rising food prices and labor shortages. Love. A love of sharing good food with good people. Of providing a fine-dining experience that takes Grandma’s comfort food to exciting new levels of flavor.
People’s tastes change. A good chef needs to think on their feet, adapting to meet the needs of their guests. This was something Miller learned long before Top Chef. It was knowledge she honed in the heat of competition, though. Most nights, the kitchen at Butterhorn is quiet compared to the studio stage, but the concentration, effort, and attention to detail are as sharp as ever.