The Morning After

Frederick Shrugs Off Letdown, Goes Back To Work After 'Top Chef' Finale

December 11, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella , laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Frank Voltaggio, uncle to newly minted celebrity chefs, watched them take first and second place on "Top Chef" at a swanky late-night party.

Then it was off to work, stocking shelves at Safeway overnight.

Most of Frederick came back to reality Thursday, the day after native sons Michael and Bryan Voltaggio completed their run on the Bravo television show.

It was a hard landing for some in town, and not just for the few who overdid it on drinks at the unofficial viewing party at Bryan's restaurant, Volt.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's editions incorrectly stated the amount of prize money that Michael Voltaggio won on the reality show "Top Chef." The correct amount is $125,000. Also, on an earlier episode of the show, Voltaggio's brother, Bryan, won the chance to work in chef Joel Robuchon's kitchen in an elimination challenge, not a "quickfire" challenge. The Sun regrets the errors.

"We were kind of bummed that it wasn't Bryan," said Laurie Rhinehart, a cousin of Bryan's wife, Jennifer Voltaggio.

Though the Voltaggio brothers both grew up in Frederick, Bryan was clearly the hometown favorite because he still lives there and has a restaurant in town. Michael lives and cooks in Los Angeles.

Family members who joined a dolled-up crowd of 300 at Volt to watch the last episode over fine cheeses, olives and wine said they were pulling for Bryan over kid brother Michael and the third finalist, Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta.

Even Grandma took Bryan's side.

"I think Michael's won enough," Ruth Voltaggio, 88, said before the winner was announced, referring to his haul in previous episodes. "He won $15,000 and he won the car."

The newly crowned Top Chef seemed to take Grandma's stance in stride. Maybe his winnings - a spread in Food & Wine magazine, cooking merchandise and $100,000 - made up for it.

"Maybe she likes Bryan a little bit more than me," Michael said by phone from Los Angeles, where he was taping "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien."

Even though the hometown favorite came in second, the crowd at Volt managed to cheer when Michael took top prize.

"We were disappointed for Bryan but very happy for Michael," said Bobbie Voltaggio, an aunt.

Bryan, who's known the outcome for weeks, appeared in chef's jacket and apron about 15 minutes before the end of the show to mingle with the crowd and accept what turned out to be misplaced congratulations.

As the results were broadcast, he stood with his wife, who kissed him and patted his back.

"Michael says he's in L.A., but you know what? The prize came to Frederick," Bryan told the crowd a few minutes later. "That's where he's from."

After momentary disappointment, hometown fans seemed content to claim first and second place in "Top Chef," even if No. 1 won't lure any culinary tourists to town.

"The national exposure that Bryan brought to his restaurant and to Frederick by performing so well on 'Top Chef' will only serve to increase the attraction of Frederick as a culinary destination," said Laurie Boyer, executive director of the Frederick County Office of Economic Development.

Not that Volt needs a surge in "Top Chef" tourism.

The restaurant's in-kitchen table for four, called Table 21 because a 21-course tasting menu is served there, is booked until December 2010, said Hilda Staples, Bryan's business partner.

As Frederick came to terms with the results and started thinking about how it will spend Wednesday nights from now on, the brothers Voltaggio were still in "Top Chef" mode. They had back-to-back interviews all Thursday. Both sounded eager to get back into their kitchens.

In separate phone interviews, the brothers said they'd made wonderful friends through the show. Their mother, who had a cameo on the last episode, quickly bonded with Gillespie's, who also appeared.

"Their mother and stepfather are coming to my little sister's wedding in the spring," Gillespie said by phone.

"Apparently my mom and Bryan's and Michael's talk multiple times a week."

The Voltaggios also said the experience brought them closer. They hadn't shared a kitchen since they were teenagers working at the Holiday Inn in Frederick.

"My brother and I got in a kitchen again together and it's opened up some really new, cool ideas moving forward," Bryan said.

As in? A joint restaurant venture (preferably one close to Baltimore)?

Bryan said only that whatever they do together, people will hear about it on their new Web site, Voltbrothers.com.

Michael said they might do a cookbook together for home and professional cooks. He said he "would not rule out" a joint restaurant, though he figured that was something they could manage from afar, without either one moving. Bryan stressed that he's turning most of his attention back to Volt.

Bryan said he had no regrets about participating in the show, which kept him in Las Vegas, away from his young family and young restaurant, for six weeks and took him to Napa for another week and a half for the finals.

"The longest I've ever been out of the kitchen since I was 15 was two weeks, and that was for my honeymoon," Bryan said.

He walked away with a lone "quickfire" victory that gave him the chance to work in someone else's kitchen for free. That the someone else is renowned chef Joel Robuchon made the prize actually quite valuable, and Bryan said he was looking forward to the opportunity.

But it will be a while before he takes Robuchon up on that offer.

"I want to stay here, focus on my restaurant," he said.

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