Frederick restaurant's chef is cooking on TV

August 20, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

FREDERICK, Md. -- When celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck questioned the trendy practice of including a purée on a plate -- referring to it as "baby food," Bryan Voltaggio thought it was a "cool reference."

The reference occurred on Wednesday night's season premiere of "Top Chef: Las Vegas" on Bravo.

Puck was a guest judge. Voltaggio, 33-year-old chef and partner of Volt Restaurant in downtown Frederick, was one of 17 "cheftestants." And his steak dish featured a purée.

Watching the premiere Wednesday night, Voltaggio said he realized he was using a lot of purées in his dishes at Volt, even now that he's home from filming the show.

"I like applying different textures, like the creaminess of purée. I was the kid who always took my sandwich and put potato chips on," he said.


Voltaggio lives in Urbana, Md., with his wife, Jennifer, a graphic artist, and son, Thacher, 2. Thacher already can peel a carrot and make scrambled eggs.

The winner of "Top Chef," according to Bravo, will receive $100,000 in cash, another $100,000 worth of merchandise, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., and the title of Top Chef. This season also includes some cash prizes for winners of individual cooking contests.

How it works

On "Top Chef," cheftestants have two contests per episode. The first is a "quickfire" test of basic abilities. The premiere's quickfire was a relay race in which teams of chefs had to compete in a combination of tasks, including shucking clams. Bryan Voltaggio's team won that race.

The second competition is the elimination challenge, which is usually more complex and results in a winner and a loser.

Voltaggio, and his brother, Michael, 30, also a cheftestant on the show, both survived the first cut. Michael is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, Calif. The brothers graduated from Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick in the mid-1990s.

Bryan Voltaggio is not allowed to talk about what happened on the "Top Chef" episodes that have not yet aired, but he did say he and Michael are still speaking.

"We both are very supportive of each other and each other's careers," Voltaggio said.

"Top Chef" cheftestants all live under the same roof until judges vote them off the show. The Voltaggio brothers hadn't lived together since 1997, Bryan said, but it was fun to once again live together and work side by side.

Stepping into the big time

To compete on "Top Chef," Voltaggio had to leave his young restaurant this past spring. Volt opened July 25, 2008.

"That was the most difficult decision I had to make, to commit time, an undetermined amount of time to go on the show," Voltaggio said. He said he left the kitchen in the capable hands of his sous chef, Graeme Ritchie.

Now that Voltaggio is back, reservations are on the rise, though Voltaggio said Volt already had some momentum before the public became aware of his status as a cheftestant.

Voltaggio's food philosophy -- exemplified by his restaurant -- is to focus on local, sustainable and organic foods.

"We try to make sure our ingredients fall under one of (those) three criteria," Voltaggio said. Sustainable means a variety of things. It could mean making sure that his shrimp come from a source that uses no child labor. Or, when buying fish, that it is caught with a single line and not using a mass-capture technique that also snags dolphins and sharks.

Then he uses his ingredients with modern and classical techniques to create modern American food, Voltaggio said.

And when he's done working at the restaurant for the night, what does he like to sink his teeth into?

"A really great sandwich or a really nice pizza," Voltaggio said.

For more information

"Top Chef: Las Vegas" airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Bravo (Antietam Cable's channel 65). To keep up with Frederick, Md., chef Bryan Voltaggio's progress, check each week.

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