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Brotherly love

'Top Chef' winner Michael Voltaggio and brother Bryan Voltaggio say it was a great battle

'Top Chef' winner Michael Voltaggio and brother Bryan Voltaggio say it was a great battle

December 16, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Frederick, Md., natives Michael and Bryan Voltaggio want "Top Chef: Las Vegas" fans to know that there are no hard feelings.

Really.

Although it was younger brother Michael Voltaggio, 31, of Los Angeles, who captured the top prize last Wednesday night and older brother Bryan Voltaggio, 33, of Urbana, Md., in second place, things are totally OK.

Seriously.

Michael Voltaggio, who is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room, Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in LA, out-cooked 16 other chef'testants, including Bryan, chef and co-owner of Volt Restaurant in Frederick, Md., to win 14 weeks of competition.

The Voltaggio brothers became early fan favorites, not only for the cooking chops but for their personalities. And even with "Top Chef" showing the good-natured ribbing in and out of the kitchen, the Voltaggios say it's brothers being brothers.

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They will be together again on "Top Chef: Reunion Special" at 9 tonight on Bravo.

"I wouldn't blame it on editing at all. I think there's definitely a story to be told between Bryan and I," Michael Voltaggio said last week while waiting to go on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." "With that being said, that nitpicking and stuff only happens in the kitchen. Really, that only happens with anyone you feel comfortable with in an environment like that. ... At the end of the day, Bryan and I are very close. He's my brother, we get along great. We're not enemies or anything like that. But there's definitely that competitive spirit between the two of us."

Bryan Voltaggio said the portrayal of the pair in "Top Chef" was fair.

"It showed who we are as individuals, but yet how we interact," he said during an interview the morning after the finale. "It showed us pushing each other's buttons. In the background, what might not have been shown was that we were also our biggest supporters. I think that got a bit obvious as it got to the end."

Michael said he saw being on "Top Chef" as a way to open doors.

"Honestly, I think cooking shows are becoming an important part of the industry," he said. "Ten or 15 years ago, if you wanted to be a chef, that didn't mean anything. It was like 'Oh, you're not smart, you're going to work in a restaurant.' And now, with food merging with fashion and entertainment, and things like that, cooking shows really help us do more than just put food in a pan and make it hot."

Bryan said the reason he did "Top Chef" was for what it could offer him professionally.

"I think, at first, it was the sibling-rivalry thing, and we'll both go on and see who's the best," he said. "There's a part of me that thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase who I am as a chef, who I am and what my restaurant is."

In addition to opening doors, for Michael, winning the show came with prizes. He won two quickfires and three elimination challenges. Bryan didn't win a quickfire, but won four elimination rounds.

As Top Chef, Michael won a feature in Food and Wine magazine, $100,000 worth of Macy's merchandise, a showcase at Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., and $125,000 from Glad to further his culinary dreams.

But don't look at Michael to be packing his knives anytime soon from the culinary world. He was scheduled to go back on the line on Dec. 18, cooking up Friday night's dinner service at Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa.

"I'm going back to work and do what I do. I think that's the thing nobody really understands. What are you going to do now? Well, I'm going to go back to work. It's not a million dollars, it's a hundred thousand dollars," he said. " ... I'm going to keep being me."

Michael already has plans to open bank accounts for his children for their education. And then, he said, he's going to be smart about his next steps.

With the launch of VoltaggioBrothers.com that he has started with his brother, Michael said he's looking for other opportunities not only for himself, but for the two of them. He mentioned such possibilities as writing a book or being on another show.

Bryan said he's staying put.

"My restaurant has been only open for 16 months," he said. "If I would leave again it would be taxing on what we are trying to accomplish. I want to spend my time here in the kitchen."

And, he said, contrary to belief, getting a reservation at Volt isn't that hard and there are plenty of open seats. As for Table 21 - the 21-course menu that is served at tables inside the kitchen - those are booked up well into next year.

As for all the media exposure, the Voltaggios said it really hasn't changed who they are as people, but they know that it will open doors.

"As a chef, it's changed me in a sense that I'll get to know my guests a little bit more," Michael Voltaggio said. "Maybe I'll cook for the people I'm cooking for and not necessarily cook for myself. But at the end of the day, stay true to myself and as an artist. Because at the end of the show, obviously doing that paid off."

Bryan said being on the show brought more recognition.

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