Michael Voltaggio is Southern California’s contestant to back when Top Chef’s sixth season premieres tomorrow night. A native of Maryland, Voltaggio was most likely the one cooking that night you fell in love with Bazaar, where he served as chef de cuisine under Jose Andres. Now at The Dining Room at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Voltaggio is obsessed with great market produce and high-tech gadgetry, going heavy on the liquid nitrogen while orchestrating unique plates of chops and seafood. In addition to representing his best self, Voltaggio will be squared off against his older brother, Bryan, this season. We spent some time speaking with Chef Voltaggio about what might change with his star turn on t.v., where he eats in Las Vegas and L.A., and how much sibling rivalry will come into play on Top Chef.
You’ve been working in kitchens since you were fifteen. Where did you start?
I started out as a busboy and then a prep cook in a restaurant in Frederick, Maryland. Actually, my older brother was the sous chef, so when I was old enough to go to work, he helped me get in there. So like a lot of jobs, it was hooked up through family connections.
Are you a fan of Top Chef?
Well, I think everybody in the industry watches it, when they can. I certainly do from time to time as there’s really no better cooking show on.
Are you excited or nervous about the show’s premiere?
To be honest, a little of both. Any time there’s something like this, life changes, so I’m of course very curious to see how it all plays out.
How do you describe your cooking style?
I prepare classic dishes with modern trends. I grew up preparing classic European cooking, but once science and technology became available, I became interested in preparing familiar flavors with new techniques.
Do you have any skills or personality traits that will give you an edge on the competition?
No one can really have an edge on the competition. It’s a day-by-day thing and you just show up and be yourself.
How do you think Top Chef has influenced the world of restaurants?
I think it’s been great. Restaurants have a whole new opportunity now. As entertainment and fashion are so popular, food is now allowed to evolve with them and be a part of that.
How are things at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena where you just started cooking?
It’s been going great. The food and beverage team is international and really have a vision for taking dining into new levels and allowing chefs to really shine. They are just very passionate about driving their restaurants and making world-class destination restaurants.
How do you think things will change at your new job once the show airs?
Well, I really hope it broadens our audience. It’s funny because Pasadena has this stigma in L.A. People in Beverly Hills will easily drive to Venice or Santa Monica to eat, when Pasadena is the same distance in the other direction. So that’s hopefully the result, that we will attract L.A. diners to Pasadena as a food and restaurant destination.
You will be competing against your brother Bryan on the show. Are you guys competitive when it comes to cooking?
No, Bryan and I always support each other. Sure, there’s a little competition siblings always have, but I love that we both are cooking professionally. I can call him up and ask what’s he’s working on and share notes. So, there’s maybe some natural rivalry that all brothers might have, but we’re still brothers at the end of the day.
Where do you like to eat in Vegas?
It’s so hard to answer, there’s so many good places to eat there — it’s got Robuchon, Tom Colicchio, Charlie Palmer, Charlie Trotter. That’s really the exciting thing about Vegas to me, that there are so many great places to eat there, it’s hard to choose.
What about L.A.?
Again, very difficult to pick. I love Sashi in Manhattan Beach for sushi. Umami Burger is a new-ish place we like for a quick bite. L.A. has really blossomed and it feels like it’s just now being taken seriously as a food town for the first time. There were a couple of good restaurants, but New York, Chicago, Boston were always labeled as great food towns, and now L.A. has become a dining destination of its own.
Why haven’t you been using your Twitter account?
I didn’t set it up. Someone set it up for me. To me, it’s great, but I just don’t have the time. I never even logged-in. If I had the time, I would use it and maybe someday I will.
If you want to know more about the chefs going head to head, check out our grand report on Wednesday’s premiere.