Tami Lax is a quiet force in the Madison restaurant scene and has been for 23 years. Some chefs clamor for awards and attention, but Lax’s success is the result of hard work, exquisite sourcing and a keen palate.
Her Instagram is a sweet parade of pickled cranberries, wild strawberries and classic diner signs from around Wisconsin, a visual record of her foraging forays and visits to her family cabin.
Lax opened Harvest 17 years ago—a triumph itself in times when restaurants open and close within a season. She co-owns The Old Fashioned next door, which opened in 2007 and is perpetually packed with enthusiastic diners.
She’s a chef, a restaurant owner and a woman in charge of the kitchen. She’s an inspiration for anyone aspiring to make it in the culinary field, but is hopeful she can serve as an example for other women.
When asked why there aren’t more female chefs in Madison, she tips her head back thoughtfully. Having been asked this before, she acknowledges there are more men than women in chef whites, but she, too, wonders why. But she feels the local culinary scene is open to a strong female cohort—pointing to her role on the board of Madison Area Chefs Network, an initiative to foster more collaboration between kitchens.
Originally drawn to cooking by Odessa Piper, former owner of L’Etoile and one of the original advocates for buying seasonally from local farms, Lax was later influenced by Alice Waters. She says, “those strong female voices gave me the confidence to say ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”