You’re probably not getting into Michael Voltaggio’s ink. anytime this decade, but as of this coming Tuesday, you can make the chef’s famous pigeon pastrami at home. Well, that is, if you have a thermal immersion circulator, smoking gun, plastic food syringe, and vacuum sealer at the ready (thankfully, the deep fryer, combi-oven, and food dehydrator are optional).
October 25th will see the official release of VOLT ink., the first brother-on-brother cookbook from Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, the ridiculously talented, disparate sons of Maryland who both boosted to fame after duking it out on Top Chef. What can you expect from the tome?
Beginning with introductions from Charlie Palmer, big bro Bryan’s mentor, and Jose Andres, Michael’s former Bazaar boss, the book is a weighty 328-page hardcover broken into 20 "ingredient families," beginning with "Avian" and ending on "Saltwater Fish." Throughout the book, the brothers double-team us, with Michael giving a recipe, then Bryan offering one of his, then back to Michael, and so on and so forth, with lots of photos of the chefs looking serious and/or sexy.
Looking at a preview copy, our first impression is of the NOMA cookbook by way of the west, with gorgeous photos of landscaped, ingredient-intensive dishes taking up full pages and an appropriate sense of "time and place." Only in VOLT/ink.’s case, one isn’t required to negotiate with wood sprites for a single stem of goosefoot or lobby trolls for Lammefjorden oysters.
Instead, the recipes, while still appearing extraterrestrial in their beauty, are distinctly, proudly North American at their core, with dishes like venison loin prepared alongside root beer molasses and butternut bark (Michael) and Bryan’s hay-smoked oysters and peekytoe crab summer roll with avocado and soy air.
Of course, given the duo’s range and varied influences, there’s plenty of room for the likes of Japanese compositions (like Mike’s big squid ramen with pork belly) and European inspirations (Mike’s basil snail agnolotti with pine nut praline and a pulpo a la Gallega with popcorn and piquillo paper that smacks strongly of Andres’ influence), though the chefs manage to put a U.S. stamp on all that’s included. Along the way, Bryan and Michael offer anecdotes on how these recipes came into their lives and tips on how to shop for and finesse the dishes.
So, speaking of finesse, is there any chance in hell that home-cooks will succeed in making Bryan’s head cheese with sunchoke relish look stunning like he does and less like a scary clump of pig face?
The recipes could potentially kill beginner cooks and even provide a challenge to the initiated. Most recipes have several distinct recipes within them that require patience, as in Bryan’s lobster dish that requires one to make forbidden rice, sunchoke puree, lobster crackers, carrot-tarragon vinaigrette, and tarragon oil, in addition to preparing your lobster, providing many potential areas to stumble on while trying to achieve the full dramatic effect. The instructions are compartmentalized and broken down well, all clear and direct, but still, this ain’t Sandra Lee at work.
Then there’s the issue of equipment. These are two seriously trained dudes who could sous-vide in their sleep and many dishes require you to get your own immersion circulator, maybe a worthy investment if you’re up to tackling all of these recipes, while ice cream makers, high powered juicers, and pasta machines are often optional, with the chefs offering solutions to get around them with stuff you already have. At least one dish calls for liquid nitrogen, which should be a fun addition to the family kitchen.
But there’s no question the book is an accomplishment of truly original, captivating, and vital compositions from two astounding talents. Whether you’re looking to take the challenge or simply want a gorgeous companion to your copy of Kitcho, VOLT/ink. is an impressive collection from this power couple duo that makes a great collector’s piece, as much as it offers a step to another level of gastronomy.