Bryan Voltaggio on Top Chef and Making an Impact

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Most people know Bryan Voltaggio from his participation in season six of Top Chef. But by the time he landed on the show, Voltaggio already had a pretty impressive culinary resume. He started cooking when he was 14 in Frederick, Maryland, and after attending the Culinary Institute of America, went on to work at Charlie Palmer's Aureole in New York, and to open Aureole Las Vegas and Charlie Palmer Steak in D.C.

But in 2008, he went off on his own and opened Volt in Frederick. The restaurant, which serves modern American cuisine using local, sustainable ingredients, has received great accolades.

Voltaggio will be at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival -- his first -- this week. He'll serve a dish from Volt at Wine Spectator's Best of the Best Friday night. And on Saturday, he'll host the Barilla Interactive Lunch at the Biltmore Hotel with Food Network show host, Claire Robinson. Tickets for the lunch are $150 and still available.

"I'm doing a marinated grilled hangar steak and serving it with polenta. So a pretty rustic, simple dish that we can do step-by-step. I thought that would be fun," he said.

Short Order chatted with Voltaggio about his charity work, Top Chef and his next restaurant.

New Times: Last year was a big year for you: Chef of the Year for Share Our Strength, Star Chefs Rising Star, James Beard Nomination, keys to the city and your own bobble head. What are you most proud of?

Bryan Voltaggio: I'm really excited that my restaurant is doing really well. The first year was rough out of the gate because it was 2008 and it was a bad economy. As a result of the show I've had many opportunities. When we put together the [Share Our Strength] Tasteful Pursuit dinner that was done in Maryland, we raised $150,000 in one night and we paid for the summer meals program in the state of Maryland. That was a huge accomplishment and I'm planning on doing it again in September. I like to have the opportunity to have an impact.

How did you get so involved with Share Our Strength?

I think one as a chef, there are many, many other causes out there surrounding food. But I feel like as a chef, hunger is one of the easiest things we can cure. It's not about money, it's about awareness. It's one that is curable, attainable and measurable. When we raised that money in Maryland we accomplished something. For me I feel that we can make a measurable impact. I get inspired to do so. I like seeing measurable goals; I don't like to run out to work on something that I can't fix.

I have a child, too, and another one on the way I couldn't even imagine if my son, or daughter, was hungry. I couldn't even understand the pain that families have to go through seeing that. For groups, and chefs, and people who have the means to do that change, I think we can do that. I support other charities, don't get me wrong, but there are other things that I can't cure. My point is that I feel I can directly affect this charity. If people listen to chefs when it comes to food, let's be the spokespeople for this cause.

How did you end up with a bobble head?

That came from the Frederick Keys, a local minor league baseball team. We had a night when we go in and do concessions and they do [the bobble heads] for the players so they thought it would be a good idea to do one of me. It was for the Keys Care program. We went and raised some money from the concessions. Pretty fun.

What was the greatest thing to come out of Top Chef for you?

I don't know. I'm glad that we were part of the season that was award winning. I think it had to do with the fact that everyone involved in the show was very professional. Even the people who did the show thought we brought a new level of professionalism to the show. And I'm glad I made it kinda far. Once is enough, though. I was asked to do the All-Stars. I turned it down. I don't want to be a chef on TV; I want to be a chef at my restaurant. I very much want to be in my restaurant kitchen.

Tell me about the new restaurant you have in the works.

I'm in the process of looking at spaces for another concept in Frederick, hopefully in 2011. It's going to be a little bit more casual and can be family-oriented. Volt will always be considered my fine-dining establishment. We use local, sustainable and organic ingredients so all those things will be incorporated into this restaurant but maybe more in shared plates. Details are coming.

What other projects are you working on?

My brother and I are in the process of writing a book together hopefully that'll come out in the fall. We're also working with Williams-Sonoma to reintroduce family dinner at the table. That's it.

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