One would think by now Chef Bryan Voltaggio would be tired of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and its other branded competitive shows.
But after coming up short in 2009’s “Top Chef” season six in Las Vegas and getting second place again in 2013’s season five of “Top Chef Masters,” the 43-year-old Frederick native still has something to prove. And that is why he decided to give it another go as a contestant on season 17 of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”
Voltaggio will compete with 14 previous cheftestants on the show, which premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday. (See accompanying information box to see who is on this season).
“I’ve been runner-up twice in both Las Vegas and Masters, and given the opportunity again is great. I just can’t wait,” he said recently during a telephone interview. He was on Interstate-270 for a meeting at his Washington, D.C.-based restaurant Estuary before heading back to Frederick to be in the Volt kitchen that evening.
Voltaggio also owns/partners with Family Meal in Frederick; Voltaggio Bros. Steak House at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill; and STRFSH in Santa Monica, California.
It’s been more than 10 years since Voltaggio and his brother Michael went head-to-head on “Top Chef.” And winning the show might help to quiet the smack talk from Michael, who ultimately won the season six showdown, and hasn’t let him live it down that he came in second. It’s also another reason why Voltaggio said he’s looking forward to this season.
“There’s also a little bit of a sibling rivalry in the Voltaggio household,” he said with his signature laugh.
He will be in familiar territory as he stands in front of judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and host Padma Lakshmi to see if he will hear the iconic, “pack your knives, and go.” And he’s excited to get back there.
“I love competing. I really love that part of it,” he said.
And the reason why he’s excited to go back a third time is that it gives him time to focus on what he loves to do without worrying about being the boss.
“When you get in the kitchen there’s only one thing — you are putting out the best dish you can,” he said. “You’re only focused on cooking. You’re under on the gun, you’re working against the clock, there’s the excitement in the kitchen. But the competition mode that occurs when you get in there is exhilarating. I’m a glutton for it.”
Two of the chefs returning are from Voltaggio’s season 6: Jennifer Carroll and Kevin Gillespie. But they’re not the only ones he knows, he named Brian Malarkey and Lee Ann Wong as two more names of people he’s familiar with.
“I pretty much know the entire group,” he said. “I either cooked with them at events or came across them at food festivals or had personal relationships with them. It’s fun to go back and look at all of these familiar faces, but also know we’re all here to compete.”
Voltaggio said he is a little more comfortable working with chefs he knows.
“I know a little about each one, their flavor profiles and some of the techniques they know, and I’ve seen them cook,” he said. “But then again, I know how good they are. This is going to be the toughest season ever.”
Yes, Voltaggio said, there have been other “All-Stars” seasons, but not with the caliber of the chefs who have gone far in their respected seasons, own a bunch of restaurants or who are still cooking at the stove every day.
“It’s going to make it really hard,” he said.
When it comes to the competition of the show, Voltaggio likes the elimination challenges over the quickfire, where the chefs are surprised with a protein or theme and prepare a dish under the gun.
“My record with quickfires isn’t that great,” he said with a laugh. “Elimination challenges are more inline with who I am as a chef and how I cook. Even at Volt when I’m creating a new menu I cook through it and it’s so satisfying.”
His favorite elimination challenges are the two finales he cooked in.
“It gets down to the theme of the challenge. You get to explore and put your food on the plate that shows you as a chef,” he said. “And beyond that, you get to have a lot of fun with it.”
The first challenge he did in “Top Chef Masters” required him to skydive for more time to cook.
“I’d never done skydiving before,” he said. “And I thought I was signing up for a cooking competition, not jumping out of a plane. That was new and exciting,” he said. “I’ve experienced things on ‘Top Chef’ that I never thought I would do in my life.”
Voltaggio said he’s grateful for the doors that appearing on “Top Chef” has opened for him in the last decade.
“It’s enabled me to do a lot,” he said, listing opening restaurants, meeting new people and more.
Most importantly, it has allowed him to give his time to charities like Chefs Cycle, which raises money to help feed the hungry outside the kitchen. He’ll be doing that again this year in Oregon as part of a group of 275 chefs and will ride more than 300 miles over two days to raise $2 million.
As for professionally, what he has on his horizon is simple: “I want to win ‘Top Chef,’” he said.
Follow Crystal Schelle on Twitter: @crystalschelle.