The Voltaggio Brothers
Weird Science, Rock and Roll
and Boys Next Door…well sort off
This article appeared in Wednesdays Edition of the Appalachian News-Express. I normally write a new version for this blog…but the article struck a chord with my local readers as is. I have also written Volt Ink Recipes Stories Brothers Bryan Voltaggio and Michael Voltaggio a cookbook review, Backstage with The Voltaggio Brothers Volt Ink a look from behind my bifocals, and a recipe I burnt up all by myself Rethinking Food Preservation with The Voltaggio Brothers VOLT ink inspired by the Brothers Voltaggio.
Who are Bryan and Michael Voltaggio?
I never heard of Bryan and Michael Voltaggio before they headlined last weekend’s Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show in Lexington. When researching for this interview, I cringed. What could two “rock star” chefs, who rose to fame on Top Chef’s Season Six possibly have to say to the people of Appalachia? As it turns out, plenty.
Chef Michael did two stints at West Virginia’s Greenbrier. When he speaks of our region, there is wistfulness in his voice.
“Appalachia and The South are one of the few places that still emphasize a tremendous level of importance on family dinner at home. The rest of the country has forgotten how powerful sharing food can be. Put dinner on the table; keep those rituals alive. These are the things that inspire us as chefs.”
Chef Bryan weighs in, “People somehow think that life is slower here in Kentucky. It’s not. It is just more real. Food, family and friends that is what is important.”
The thirty something chefs were well established when they decided to compete on Bravo’s Top Chef Series. With Michael the winner and Bryan the runner-up, the chefs found themselves thrust into the national limelight.
“We have made adjustments in our lives, but it’s our family, our teams, and our stoves that have keep us focused,” Bryan reflects.
“I miss the kitchen. I miss my clientele,” Michael comments. “We are thankful for the opportunity to share our food and our ideas with people who might not otherwise hear from us. During this tour we are focusing on education and giving back to the culinary community.”
The Voltaggio Brothers grew up in a working class family near Frederick, Maryland. No strangers to the family garden, the chefs have vivid memories of home grown vegetables. Michael, the more soulful of the two, remembers peas and beans. “Anything in a pod” inspires the culinary maverick who runs to successful restaurants “Ink” and “Ink Sack” on the west coast.
Bryan, culinary trained and polished, has a penchant for squash and what he calls “hearty greens” such as kale, mustard and collards. Chef Bryan’s Restaurant, “Volt” is located in Maryland where the growing season is short. “Preserving is key to running a professional kitchen space,” Bryan says. “We preserve ingredients at peak flavors and present the results throughout the year.”
When the Voltaggio Brothers put on chef’s coats preserving food gets modern twists. Their ideas for vacuum packing raw vegetable in a solution of soy, olive oil and honey then cooking in the juices is a great way to preserve taste and vitamins. For small batch pickles, the brothers suggest a quick cooking in vinegar and brine on the stovetop.
A theme throughout the Incredible Food Show presentation was “Use it all.” Slice broccoli stem to make a slaw. Use the roots of turnips and beets for playful garnishes. Char beet tops in the oven, crumble, combine with salt for an herbal seasoning.
A showstopper idea was dehydrating broccoli, then placing it in a deep fryer. The broccoli heads actually popped like corn.
The brothers advocate “playing with food.” Like a child in kindergarten, Chef Michael reveled in creating a “dot” garnish with a hole punch and tomato leather.
Both Voltaggio brothers emphasis the use to local and sustainably grown produce; but that is not what brought them to television fame. Like mad scientists, the siblings toy with transformative catalysts including liquid nitrogen. Molecular gastronomy is the culinary term for the technique; the same technology that spherizes Dippin Dots. The team built an edible landscape presentation, with the crowning finale a salad dressing transformed into a garnish of snow.
VOLT ink.: Recipes, Stories, Brothers is the chefs inaugural foray into the world of cookbooks. Kentucky was the first venue for prerelease. There is edginess about the work, yet an earthiness too. Chapters are organized by families…for instance parsley and carrots are in the same botanical classifications. Each brother presents recipes within that family, providing extraordinary ways to prepare ordinary ingredients. Some concepts may be beyond home cooks comfort level, but the coffee table sized book with photos and stories is one of those references that will be inspiring me for years to come. If you have aspiring rock and roll chefs on your Christmas list, the book currently retails for less than $25 on Amazon.com.
This week, the Voltaggio Brothers literally “kicked off” their book campaign at a AAA Baseball Stadium near Frederick, Maryland where they hosted a “Kickball Party”, signed books, served up Voltaggio style concessions and rocked out with local bands. I wish I could have been there.
Disclaimer: We are compensated for sales made through Amazon. Rhoda and I paid for our copies of Volt Ink cookbook and paid VIP admission price to the Incredible Food Show. We also held press creditials which enabled us to bring you behind the scenes looks at the show, the chefs, and the Voltaggio Brothers. Thanks to Melanie, Joy, and Sherri for making it all come together.