Yesterday we offered up our interview with the West Coast’s last remaining cheftestant on tonight’s Top Chef finale – Michael Voltaggio. Today we’re bringing you a follow-up interview with the East Coast’s own Voltaggio: Bryan. He’s already made it further than DC’s first Top Chef, Spike Mendelsohn, and he seems poised to follow in the footsteps of Carla Hall who was one of the top three competitors last season.
We caught Chef Voltaggio in the kitchen at VOLT, the restaurant he opened in Frederick, Maryland, about a year and a half ago. No resting on his laurels for this Top Chef – Voltaggio was hard at work sauteeing sweetbreads for that evening’s dinner service and had to step away from the phone a few times to make sure everything came out just right. It’s that kind of attention to detail that helped him to three Elimination Challenge wins.
In the course of our interview, we discussed several of the same topics we asked his brother, Michael about: fan reactions in his restaurant, sibling rivalry, the impact of the competition on their family members. Check out the conversation, and then tune in tonight to see whether the Voltaggios will be able to take their rivalry all the way to the finale.
Capital Spice: Good afternoon, Chef. It’s great to have an opportunity to follow up with you now that we know you’ve made it so far. Congratulations on your success.
Bryan Voltaggio: Thanks. Happy to talk with you again.
CS: What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen since the show started airing?
BV: Without a doubt, the show has put a new focus on VOLT. We’re seeing increased foot traffic, especially on Saturdays and Sundays as people from Washington visit Frederick.
CS: You grew up in the area. How does it feel to know that you’re having a hand in bringing more people to town?
BV: It’s been terrific – we all tend to share business throughout the community. If we’re booked solid at VOLT, we’ll happily recommend people check out other restaurants in town – and they’ll do the same for us.
CS: One of the things that fans have noticed is the concentration of wins with just a few chefs this season. You and the other three finalists are the ONLY contestants to win an Elimination Challenge. What was your take on the competition?
BV: Everyone from the judges to former contestants have said that the level of competition this season is higher than it ever has been before. I can honestly say that every single contestant deserved to be there for the food they were cooking. The challenge wins don’t reflect the reality of the overall skill level in that kitchen.
Bryan’s take on the Voltaggio sibling rivalry, his mother’s reaction, and forgetting an anniversary after the jump.
CS: Did you have any favorite challenges over the course of the season?
BV: Pigs and Pinot was definitely a favorite, and not just because it was a chance to cook for Chef Palmer. At VOLT, we break down whole pigs every two weeks for use in the restaurant, so it was a competition I felt really comfortable with.
CS: Which of your challenge wins would you say is the closest to the food you do at VOLT?
BV: I’d say the guacamole macaron was most like what we’re doing here. We’ve even got a macaron on the menu right now – beet and foie gras. I was also proud of my trout with the deconstructed sauce bearnaise – that’s very much my kind of cooking.
CS: You’ve got an anniversary coming up soon…
BV: I do?
CS: Table 21 – your four-seat tasting menu experience – debuted on December 21st of last year. Are you planning anything big to commemorate the one-year anniversary?
BV: I really hadn’t put any thought into it, but I’m sure we’ll do something to celebrate.
CS: Has your appearance on Top Chef had any impact on Table 21 reservations?
BV: Definitely. We’re booked solid through March and we’ve got reservations going out as far as May at this point. I think there are a lot of fans out there who are looking for a way to experience something like what the show portrays.
CS: So what’s the story on the sibling rivalry? Are you and Michael really that competitive?
BV: We’re brothers – it’s part of the package. I can’t go into too many details, but of course there was rivalry on AND off camera.
CS: And how has your family reacted to the dual success stories?
BV: They’re all really excited, though I’d say my mom has been watching with increasing nervousness. It’s hard for her to root for one or the other of us against the other.
CS: If someone were to head into VOLT today, what kinds of dishes could the expect to find on the menu?
BV: We’re doing lots of braising and roasting right now, as well as some of my favorite side dishes like the winter squash. Seasonal cooking can be a bit tricky as we head into the months when there aren’t a lot of fresh vegetables popping up week after week. We’re using some of the fruits and veggies we preserved over the summer to add color and flavor to our dishes – just want pickling was meant for!
CS: How has audience reaction been when people have come into your restaurant?
BV: I think there’s an aspect of wanting to experience what they’ve seen on television when people come into the restaurant now. I try to live up to their expectations. I really haven’t spent much time following audience reactions online, but occasionally someone will share something with me.
CS: How do you think you came across on camera?
BV: I’d say I came across about the way I do in real life. I went in with a mindset that says I’m here to cook and compete…that’s it. I wasn’t about to change who I am for the cameras.
CS: Has it been a good experience for you, overall?
BV: Absolutely. I’m really proud of what we’re doing at VOLT, and Top Chef has given me an opportunity to let a much broader audience know about it. Just last month I got to compete in the DC Central Kitchen’s Capital Food Fight. I lost in the first round to Chef Michael Mina, but it was a great event and a lot of fun. DC Central Kitchen is a great program, and I was happy to have the chance to help raise money and bring attention to what they’re doing.
CS: Thanks for taking the time to talk again, Chef. Best of luck in the finale.
BV: Thanks for watching.
There you have it. Two Voltaggios, both alike in dignity. Even in their interviews, the similarities and differences in their experiences and their styles showed through.
So what do you think?