I had a nice chat on the phone Friday with Bryan Voltaggio, chef/partner at Volt restaurant in Frederick. Bryan is one of this season’s contestants on Top Chef. Out of 17 chefs who started on the Bravo show, only six are left, including Bryan and his brother Michael. It’s getting really hot in the kitchen now.
I’m an avid follower of the show and recently had dinner at Volt (my review will be in January’s Baltimore magazine), so I was looking forward to catching up with Bryan.
But we weren’t alone. When you schedule an interview with one of the show’s contestants, a Bravo representative is involved in a conference call to make sure you don’t pry any inside info out of the chef, like who won.
I evidently crossed the line when I asked if the finale had been shot and when it would air? A terse "No announcement has been made yet" from the mysterious Bravo voice quickly cut me short.
But Bryan, a Maryland native as is his brother, seems like a really nice guy. He’s married and has a two-year-old son. When I talked to him, he sounded like he was in or near his restaurant kitchen, so there were some interruptions, in a nice way, from Bryan as he talked to his staff, like, "No, not like that," or "save more room there," so I’ve paraphrased a lot of what he said.
Here are some of his comments. You’ll love his reflections on contestants Robin and Jennifer
Why a restaurant in Frederick? "I grew up here," he said. "I always thought at some point I would come home here." Bryan said that another plus is that Frederick County is agricultural so he is close to the seasonal, local sources he uses for ingredients. He added that when he became a Top Chef contestant, the restaurant had only been open seven months. "It was difficult to walk away" from the startup, he said.
About his brother, who is a chef de cuisine in L.A.: Bryan said it was really fun spending so much time with his younger brother Michael (both are in their early 30s) on the show even if they did have a "spat here and there." He doesn’t mind the show playing up the sibling rivalry. It’s not that usual to have two brothers in the same field, he said. "For chefs, it’s unique. You don’t usually find that."
How his Top Chef appearance has affected his restaurant: "When it opened (in 2008), it took a little while for people to trust it," Bryan said. But once Volt was discovered, it became a hit. Now, with additional publicity from the show, you have to call weeks in advance for a weekend reservation. "There’s a whole new energy here at the restaurant," the chef said.
Top Chef screenings at Volt: Bryan said his family and friends would stop by to watch the show on a TV in the restaurant’s lounge area on Wednesdays. Finally, the crowd grew so large that the restaurant sets up a screen and projector outside, weather permitting. (Sounds like fun.)
About contestant Robin: When I asked him if he felt sorry for Robin, his quick response was, "Yes and no." He said he felt bad about how some of the other contestants treated her and how a lot of people felt she shouldn’t still be on the show. "I tend not to agree," he said. "I have a lot of respect for her. She should be proud of how far she’s gotten."
But he added that they have distinctive styles, citing the recent restaurant wars challenge when they were on the same team. "I don’t see eye to eye with her when it comes to food. We’re very different." He described her food as being more homey. "I do different cooking." The food at Volt can be best described as New American cuisine.
About contestant Jennifer: In recent episodes, Jennifer, once poised and confident, has seemed on the verge of a meltdown. "Yeah," said Bryan. "She felt overwhelmed. But you go in every day and try and perform your best again. Every challenge is different."
I hope this is a spoiler: "She could bounce back," Bryan said.
How does he stay so darn calm? "As a chef, you’re always up against a new challenge in your own kitchen," he said, whether it’s a diner’s request, machinery breakdown, or supplies don’t show up. But he added that despite the outward calm, he can feel frantic inside. "I try not to show it. I try not to over do the emotions." He said it’s better for his kitchen team if he’s composed when there’s chaos in the kitchen. He’s pretty much been able to carry that over to the show.
What’s his favorite restaurant besides Volt? It's not a restaurant, it's home, he said. "I love to cook at home. I keep it more simple for my son and wife. I don’t want to make the same food" as at the restaurant, he said, adding that, at times. there are even lumpy mashed potatoes.
When I asked Bryan whether his other sibling, a sister, was a chef, he laughed and said, "No way. She’s an administrative assistant."
I guess two chefs in the family are enough. Kudos to their mom. I can’t wait to see what happens on Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of Bravo