Bryan Voltaggio seeks a Top Chef title, but his food inspires beyond the plate

TOP CHEF -- "Michael’s Santa Monica" Episode 1711 -- Pictured: Bryan Voltaggio -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Michael’s Santa Monica" Episode 1711 -- Pictured: Bryan Voltaggio -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

Returning to Top Chef, Bryan Voltaggio fights for the title, but his food creativity excites beyond the competition.

Bryan Voltaggio is one of the fan favorites to return on Top Chef All Stars LA. After being a finalist in both Top Chef Season 6 and Top Chef Masters, the culinary competition veteran still craves that elusive title. While Chef Bryan has had much success beyond the Bravo culinary competition, he wants to add that winner accolade to his resume.

Looking at his culinary career, Bryan Voltaggio has honed his craft. From the Culinary Institute of America to working in Michelin star restaurants to James Beard nominations to his celebrated restaurants, Voltaggio blends knowledge, experience and passion into his menus. While a dish might employ elevated techniques and ingredients, the flavors tend to spark a food memory.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Chef Bryan about his Top Chef experience, some of his culinary inspiration and how he strives to help the food insecure.

As the only chef to compete both on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, the familiarity with the culinary competition could be an advantage for the celebrated chef. Still, he took this experience as an opportunity to focus on food and cooking without the real-world distractions.

Chef Bryan related the competition to a “Top Chef summer camp.” Even though one episode had a real camp vibe, it is more of the concept where everyone is focused on the competition. Chef Bryan admitted that he does like to compete. Even though he finds the competition grueling, the opportunity to focus on food excites him and was even a little “therapeutic.”

Still, he understood that this third time around wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. It was more than just knowing the chefs that were in the competition, it was balancing his way of cooking within the parameters of the challenges.

Is there a Quickfire curse?

As seen in his numerous appearances, Quickfire Challenges are not his friend. Whether it is the time constraint or the narrow theme, sometimes those cooking limitations tend to stifle his creativity. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to stay within the parameters, it just doesn’t always seem to work.

Chef Bryan admitted that his Quickfire Challenges may not be his strong suit. As seen in this season’s competition, those bottom dishes are not because the dish was bad, it was because the dish did not take into account the challenge. Sometimes the rules of the game are just as important as the well-executed dish.

Regardless of the outcome, he embraces every challenge and puts out delicious food. It might not be the best interpretation for that challenge, but it is his spin on the ingredients in front of him.

Still, when his creativity can be explored, Chef Bryan creates impeccable food. Although he might rely on dishes from his repertoire, he knows that flawless execution will get him far in the competition. To be that Top Chef, he needs to convey his vision to the judges.

While the Quickfire Challenges win tally is sparse, the finale is where Chef Bryan shines. He specifically mentioned that he appreciates the opportunity to create a meal focuses on a theme. Since it is everyone’s goal to make the finale and present their food, he feels that in his previous two finales he has made the most of that chance.

In some ways, that finale meal is like his heart on a plate. It is an expression of who is he, where he is from and what he inspires to achieve. Although the plates are elegant and sophisticated, there is a connection that extends beyond the food on the table.

Looking at Chef Bryan’s food on both Top Chef and in his restaurants, the dishes tend to make a connection. It isn’t comfort food, but it is “comforting food.” Whether it is childhood favorite dish or a family memory about the table, each bite brings back a flavor memory, just in a new way.

For example, at the Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at the MGM National Harbor, there is a macaroni and cheese dish on the menu. Everyone has grown up with a version of this dish, but their version offers a cheese foam element.

Bryan Voltaggio
Bryan Voltaggio’s Mac and Cheese from Voltaggio Brothers Steak House, photo provided by Voltaggio Brothers Steak House /

That blend of playful, nostalgic and creative is what makes Chef Bryan a standout. It isn’t reinventing a dish just for the sake of reinvention. It is finding that balance of refinement and familiar that resonates.

At the time of this writing, Chef Bryan is still in the Top Chef All Stars LA competition. Whether or not he makes his finale meal remains to be seen. if foodies do get to see his third take on this culinary journey, it should be quite impressive.

While Top Chef has brought Chef Bryan into people’s homes, he understands that his position gives him a strong voice in the culinary world. As his notoriety might bring people to his table, he can use that opportunity to further a bigger food conversation.

As the restaurant industry continues to adapt, pivot and evolve, chefs are finding new ways of serving their customers. Although Chef Bryan believes that people will want to enjoy their favorite restaurants again, the experience may be different. Even though people find comfort in food, they want a dish that is more than the food from the home kitchen. It might not be a 20+ ingredient dish with intricate plating, but it will be a food experience.

One way that Chef Bryan is adapting is through growing his own produce. He mentioned that he has planted many blueberry bushes and full garden by his restaurant. While he may not be farmer Bryan, that hyper local food can and will change the dining experience for his guests.

By showing his guests that flavor from fresh, local foods, it can be a way to encourage them to support local farmers and producers. Again, although not obvious, he is educating through example.

It has been said time and again, food connects people. Who hasn’t had a spirited conversation around the table, sparked an idea to change because of a bite or be transported back to a special memory by an aroma? For Chef Bryan, he finds ways to foster that connection through the organizations that he supports.

As seen in Top Chef Masters, his charity was Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry. For over 15 years, Chef Bryan has supported and been a voice for that organization. With food insecurity growing every day, he continues to be a vocal advocate for the cause.

For Chef Bryan, he believes in the organization’s goal-oriented drive. Similar to his own drive to compete, he appreciates that No Kid Hungry sets a target to eliminate childhood hunger. Through providing meals to educating families, each and every step gets everyone closer to that ultimate goal.

Although his annual Chef Cycle fundraiser might take a different look this year, he continues to be a strong advocate for the organization. Just like a strong chef leads by example in the kitchen, he does not take his opportunity for granted. He wants to be part of these important conversations and fight for change.

Whether or not Bryan Voltaggio ultimately wins the Top Chef title remains to be seen. From his creativity on the plate to his dedication to giving back, he has earned a spot in the culinary elite regardless if he packs his knives, again.

Bryan Voltaggio is based in Maryland and has several restaurants in the U.S. including Volt, Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse and Family Meal.

Top Chef All Stars LA airs on Bravo, Thursday nights at 10 p.m.

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Is Bryan Voltaggio one of your favorite Top Chef cheftestants? Do you think that he can finally win the title this season?