My Night with Michael Voltaggio



Dining in the Hands of a
Top Chef Contestant

I make my love for television no secret. Every week I watch my episode of Top Chef with rapture. (And I know I am not the only one.) But, with the exception of Top Chef Masters, I’ve never had the chance to experience the food of one of the competitors I’m watching… until this season.

Shortly before the airing of Season 6 began, I was invited to a media dinner at the dining room of the Langham Hotel in Pasadena and experienced the food of the hotel’s new chef, Michael Voltaggio (the younger of the “two brothers”). I like to pretend that I attended the dinner to check out the new chef and assure myself that I could still count on recommending the hotel whenever I’m called upon to recommend fine dining in the Los Angeles area. But. yes, I was the freakish fan there to check out the Top Chef guy.

It was fun to experience first-hand what Chef Voltaggio is all about. His food is, as you can infer from the series, very forward-thinking with lots of sous vide, molecular “magic tricks” and an emphasis on architectural presentation. For example, one of our dinner’s seven courses included octopus with “buttered popcorn,” another incorporated a “tomato granola.” And the dinner, enjoyed with my sidekick and fellow secret wine geek Lisa, was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. But what turned out to be far more interesting than the dinner was to gain perspective on the level of the chefs on this season’s Top Chef. And let me assure you from what I experienced, the top tier of this year’s contestants got some cooking chops.

I would definitely say that young Voltaggio is among this season’s very top contenders, but I would by no means say that he is the best chef there. At least three other candidates, including his older brother Bryan Voltaggio, are easily as skilled and perhaps even more so than the Langham’s chef. It is fascinating and inspiring to have some measure of the talent of these cooks. It gives me greater insight into where the judges come from with some of their pronouncements. And it definitely makes me want to visit the restaurants of each of the top contenders.

I have yet to visit the restaurants of any of the Top Chef alums, but the experience of dining in Voltaggio’s hands has inspired me to start seeking them out. As I’ve heard many food industry friends comment, I agree that this season’s bunch are the strongest Top Chef contestants ever. However, perhaps there is something about going through the competition that gives young chefs an edge. I certainly think it is at least worth a try. But if I ever have the chance to taste the food of a contestant while the season is in progress, I’ll definitely jump at it. And if you really want to feel like a part of the competition, I highly recommend that you do the same!

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