Only One Can Be 'Top Chef'

Both Voltaggio Brothers Are In Final, But Frederick Sees Potential Economic Gain If Bryan Wins

December 06, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella , laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

No extra pressure, Bryan Voltaggio, but there's more than culinary glory, sibling rivalry and gobs of cash riding on your next (and final) performance on "Top Chef."

Add Frederick County's bond rating to the mix.

On Wednesday night, the Bravo reality cooking show's finale airs with the three remaining competitors: Voltaggio, his brother, Michael Voltaggio, and chef Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta.

The next morning, the county's economic development honcho begins two days of meetings with New York City bond-rating agencies.

"My hope is Bryan wins, so I can start all our meetings with, 'And you know we're home to Top Chef Bryan Voltaggio,' " said Laurie Boyer, executive director of the Frederick County Office of Economic Development and an avid "Top Chef" fan. "I'm already planning on working that into the presentation."

What sounds like a lighthearted ice-breaker actually could have some bearing on Frederick County prosperity. Bryan Voltaggio has a restaurant in Frederick, and reservations at Volt have spiked since he started appearing on "Top Chef." The town could see an even greater surge in foodie tourism if he wins. That's one reason why Boyer's office, the local tourism council and others have chipped in for a tent that will allow area fans to watch the finale on a TV in Volt's courtyard, no matter what the weather.

"There will be a big, supportive crowd for Bryan Wednesday," Boyer said.

Frederick can also claim Michael Voltaggio, who like his brother grew up in town. But if Michael wins, the "Top Chef" effect will mostly be enjoyed 3,000 miles away; he is chef at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena, Calif.

Should Gillespie take top honors, "Top Chef" tourists will head for Atlanta's Woodfire Grill.

"It's very exciting to be in the top three with Michael and also Kevin," Bryan said last week. "Kevin is also a very talented cook and also a friend. It's also sad to see other people go along the way that you thought were very strong cooks."

The competition began in Las Vegas with 17 chefs. Each week, one has been told to pack his or her knives and go home. By last Wednesday, there were four finalists and a new location, California's Napa Valley.

Spectacular kitchen disasters sent competitors packing earlier in the season. But by last week's episode, a tad too much salt could do it.

The Voltaggios and Gillespie survived that episode by dint of a flake-salt fakeout: Jennifer Carroll of Philadelphia's Ritz-Carlton used too much of the salt in her goat-cheese dish. The seasoning can be deceiving because a dish gets saltier as the flakes melt into the other ingredients. So said salt guru/chef Michael Chiarello, who played guest judge and commiserated with the ousted Carroll.

"At the end of the day, it just comes down to who has the better day," Michael said. "It doesn't mean one cook is better than the other. The judges preferred one dish over the other."

The Voltaggios' cooking style is more elaborate than Gillespie's. Bravo keeps replaying a clip in which Michael says, "The food Kevin cooks is the food I cook on my day off."

But in a phone interview last week, Michael had high praise for his competitor, who often has impressed judges with very simple but perfectly executed dishes.

"Kevin is a phenomenal chef," Michael said. "Kevin's potato salad ... was the best potato salad I've ever put in my mouth. A chef, to be great, has to be equally excited about a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and foie gras."

The final "Top Chef" episode has been taped, but Bravo has sworn everyone involved to secrecy. The Voltaggios said in phone interviews last week that even their closest family members do not know who has won the grand prize, which includes a spread in Food & Wine magazine, cooking merchandise and $100,000.

"Having them in the finals now is amazing, of course, but it's also nerve-racking," said Staci Rosenberger, the Voltaggios' sister. "One of them could possibly win it, and the other one is going to suffer - not suffer, but be upset."

Michael Voltaggio said their mother can't wait for it to be over.

"She probably would have preferred to see us both go home a long time ago and not have to go through this," he said.

Said Bryan: "She knows, obviously, only one of us will win."

True enough, if you discount the possibility that neither Voltaggio wins and the prize goes to Gillespie.

Did Bryan mean to say, "only one of us can win"? Or was that a slip?

Tune in Wednesday to find out.

On TV

The finale of "Top Chef" airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo.

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