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Bryan Voltaggio on Being Called Michael and Turning Down Top Chef All-Stars

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Photo: Andre F. Chung/Baltimore Sun

I'm sitting in LGA right now, contemplating the paucity of dining options in terminal B and awaiting my flight to Milwaukee and then on to Kohler, Wisconsin, home of the Kohler Wine and Food Festival Experience. I'll be filing reports back from there all weekend. But to ease our way in, I spoke with Bryan Voltaggio by phone this morning. I was wearing my blogger mumu — it's actually by Miu Miu — he was preparing for a lunch he was doing in Kohler.

Where are you right now?
I'm in Kohler, Wisconsin.

What are you planning to do?
Yesterday I did a demonstration on the main stage for the opening. I did a few dishes from Volt for a few hundred people.

Are these sorts of demos something you are doing more and more now?
Go to festivals? Sporadically, but I am trying to limit what I do outside of the restaurant. I want to be dedicated to my space and be there for service. Right now, anything that is truly extracurricular really only has to do with S.O.S. I want to focus my efforts toward one thing.

Is that why you're not doing Top Chef All-Stars? Did they ask you?
They asked me. That is why I turned it down. I couldn't spend another six weeks outside of the restaurant. It wasn't possible.

The six weeks you did spend out of the restaurant during the filming of Top Chef — what was the cost of that, of not being there to put out fires?
Actually I have a great team. My sous-chef Graham has been with me for six years. I'm fortunate. Even if I'm not there, it's in my mind it's running just as well as I'm not there. One thing I was learned working for Charlie Palmer is that when Charlie was out of the kitchen, I always made sure the kitchen ran better than when he was there. It was my opportunity to show what I could do. Of course, the guests that do arrive and want to meet me, there is a difference. Now after Top Chef, there's a mixed group of clientele. Some people are coming just because they saw me on the show, so if I'm not there they become disappointed. That's another reason I try not to be outside of the restaurant.

What are some common comments you get?
I get, "I thought you were taller," a lot. A lot of people say, "I thought you should have won." Or "You should have beat your brother." The same diner goes to both of our restaurants. I'm pretty sure he'll tell each of us we're the best. It's funny.

Do you ever get called Michael Voltaggio?
All the time. It's funny. It's not from people I just meet. It's from people I've known for a while.

Has Top Chef changed anything between you and Michael?
It's pretty much the same but we're working together on a few things. We're in the process of putting together a book. We're working with Williams-Sonoma to help teach people how to use their equipment. We're reintroducing some tools they already have and some new technology like Polyscience's New Immersion Circulator that's for retail now, the Smoking Gun, and the Vitamix and Thermomix equipment. And we're product testing a lot of new equipment to see if it makes sense for Williams-Sonoma.

It'll be like "The Voltaggio Brothers tested-and-approved."
I wouldn't brand it that way, but it is kinda what we're doing.

Do you guys argue whether it's Michael and Bryan Voltaggio or Bryan and Michael?
No, right now it's The Voltaggio Brothers but thanks for that. I'll think of that ahead of time.

What do you make of Eric Ripert's statement that "Molecular gastronomy is dead"?
Eric said that? I'm sure he clarifies that statement. [Ed note: he does!] But I call what I do Modern American. That's the beauty of it: American cuisine is a global cuisine because we're a melting pot. We can use Asian ingredients. We can use products from South America. That's my philosophy but I try to use products that are local, sustainable or organic. One of three criteria. I know I can't do all of them.

I think Dylan once said, "Half of the people can be part right all of the time. / Some of the people can be all right part of the time / But all of the people can't be all right all of the time."
That's exactly right.

· All Bryan Voltaggio Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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