Far from cookie-cutter, Michael Voltaggio – the tatted-up winner of Top Chef Season 6 – is L.A.’s quintessential bad boy chef. His colorful sleeve and deadpan glare sported in most photos, occasionally met with a sly smirk, drives this point home. But don’t stereotype him: he’s got a lot of talent up those sleeves.
With a bevy of accolades under his belt, including being awarded Food & Wine’s 2013 Best New Chef, Voltaggio isn’t new to the inner workings of a kitchen: His passion came to surface at a mere 15 years old. Perhaps there was a nudge of inspiration from older brother Bryan Voltaggio, who owns Volt in Frederick, MD, and who also came in as the Top Chef Season 6 runner-up. (Both of them have made our Top 50 Social Chefs List of 2013-2014.)
At the ripe age of 21, Michael graduated from the Greenbriar Culinary Apprenticeship Program, making him the youngest person to do so. His classical training and precision, married with his inventive, modern approach to cooking keep his creations exciting and his name relevant beyond L.A.’s foodscape.
Restaurants ink. – specializing in modern L.A. cuisine – and ink.sack – a smaller outlet focused on sandwiches – are his first signature ventures. And no, the inspiration wasn’t the kind of ink you’re probably thinking of, but rather a concept that “alludes to an idea of permanence and a creation of a memory.” Both properly exude an air of refinement, which can also be seen in his culinary creations.
An L.A. Times Magazine feature compares Voltaggio’s attention to detail to a performance artist: “It’s not like watching Eminem perform onstage; it’s like watching Eminem in the recording studio, microscopically adjusting a phrase 200 times until a single troublesome trochee snaps into place. The term OCD doesn’t begin to describe the scary focus Voltaggio…brings to a lightly cooked baby turnip.”
Prior to ink., Voltaggio was the chef de cuisine at the Dining Room at Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Hotel. And before that, he helmed the kitchens of greats like José Andrés (The Bazaar) and Charlie Palmer (Dry Creek Kitchen).
Most recently, Voltaggio collaborated with the Umami Burger chain to create a unique burger inspired by a Monte Cristo. The burger is topped with Gruyère fondue and prosciutto. And if that’s not enough to appease your tastebuds, it’s outfitted in a custard-soaked and -fried burger bun and finished off with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. This is the kind of creativity Voltaggio brings to all of his dishes, though his fare is typically not so greasy. But that’s his knack: a limitless vision with a sharp and centered precision that only a true artiste can balance.