Chef Spotlight: Bryan Voltaggio

As a finalist on season 6 of “Top Chef” and season 5 of “Top Chef Masters,” Bryan Voltaggio is the first chef to compete on both shows.

Born and raised in Frederick, Md., Bryan Voltaggio got his start in hotel restaurants. At the age of 20 he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America before heading to Aureole where he met mentor Chef Charlie Palmer. Following a stint at Michelin three-star Pic restaurant in France, Voltaggio reunited with Palmer as executive chef at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, D.C., before returning to his native Frederick to open VOLT in 2008. Voltaggio expanded his culinary offerings with Lunchbox, Family Meal, AGGIO and RANGE restaurants. 

Voltaggio currently operates one restaurant in Baltimore: AGGIO, a modern Italian fine-dining restaurant located in the Power Plant Live! complex.

Get to Know Bryan Voltaggio

Culinary contributor Amy Langrehr sat down with Chef Voltaggio to chat about food, family and what’s great about Baltimore.

Was food a big part of your upbringing? Did you cook when you were a kid?  
BV: Always. The first thing I really remember cooking was scrambled eggs, and maybe grilled cheese. We used to have pancake-eating contests with our neighbors – that was a lot of fun. Where we lived in Frederick, we could have a big garden and we lived near farms, so we learned early about food. As a kid, I ate everything. My brother, Michael, hated green vegetables.

Lots of kids get to choose the meal on their birthday – anything they want…to a point, I suppose. What would be your “birthday meal” now? What did you ask for when you were a kid?
BV: Oh, yeah. Definitely…but when I was a kid? (Grabs phone and types.) Let’s get back to that one later. I can’t remember. (Smiles; phone lights up.) Oh, OK, yeah. My mom texted me back: fried chicken, baked mac and cheese and applesauce. So, yeah, my birthday meal was Family Meal [his restaurant]. That’s funny. And for my birthday meal now? Someone else cooking for sure, and it’s whatever I want in that moment. My tastes change a lot.

What food trend can you absolutely not stand?  
BV: I guess just that food has trends. I honestly believe that you can just keep creating new things and building on existing things, you know? We can always just keep changing and evolving by coming up with new ideas. One thing I truly believe is that farm-to-table is not a trend. It’s a reset to what we were supposed to be doing all along.

“Top Chef” is such a popular show. What’s it like having so many people know who you are?
BV: It’s OK. When I was on “Top Chef,” I was just me. Obviously, not acting. (Laughs.) [Oh, I love his laugh!]

Any plans to collaborate with your brother? How often do you guys see each other?
BV: Yes. We did a holiday cooking series with Cooking Channel. (Pulls up a video on his phone of Bryan and Michael cooking Thanksgiving dinner.) We filmed it earlier this year. That was fun, us working together. Duff Goldman was part of one of the episodes, too. Really fun. Hopefully we’ll do more.

When I tell people about you, I often find myself using the word “normal.” How do you stay grounded?
BV: Well, it starts from the fact that I stayed where I grew up. People who know me around here just know me as Bryan. Being near family, being with my wife since high school, being in Frederick – all of it together just keeps me grounded. I still do some television stuff, but that stuff doesn’t change me as a person. I’m still just a cook.

What chefs do you admire?
BV: Thomas Keller is a pretty obvious one - his pursuit of the perfect kitchen machine. He’s been kind of a mentor from afar. I admire him a lot. Charlie Palmer has been a great influence on me. And, Gerry Hayden of Aureole – he gave me a shot as a chef.

What do you like about Baltimore?
BV: We came to Baltimore a lot as kids from Bowie and Frederick. Orioles games were always fun. Baltimore has a lot going for it. Being on the Chesapeake, there’s so much culture here and it’s really an approachable city. I lived and worked in New York City for seven years, and I always knew I wanted to come back home and cook.

What do you love about food?
BV: I love having a creative outlet. You know, beyond just sustenance. I love what I can do with food.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the city? And, where in Baltimore would you take your wife for a date night? No kids…
BV: This is hard. I need to get out more. Ideally? Maybe Charleston, Wit & Wisdom, Woodberry Kitchen, Cinghiale. There are more for sure, and it’s nice to be here now. Nice to actually be able to spend time in the city as an adult. I can’t wait to get out more. Baltimore is such a great city.

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