The Voltaggio brothers’ stadium show for VOLT ink
By Tim Carman
Monday, Oct. 10, 2011
We’ve known for years now that chefs are this generation’s rock stars, strutting, tattooed, slightly dangerous characters who have redefined cooking much like Elvis did with pop music in the ’50s. Chefs, like rockers before them, understand the inherent sensuality of their craft and its ability to seduce (even if the practitioners wear an apron, with all its Oedipal overtones).
But with their debut cookbook, brothers and former “Top Chef”ers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are taking the rock star analogy to the next level: They’re hosting a release party for VOLT ink. in a stadium, complete with music, chef-driven concessions and beer. The book release/rock concert will take place Oct. 18 at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys. (Read the fine print here, including ticket information.)
“Last year,” Bryan Voltaggio said last week during a break in filming for a Samsung commercial with his brother, “we did concessions at Keys stadium, and it benefited a charity. It was a really good turnout. The Keys wanted to do something else again with me this year.”
The brothers thought their cookbook, due on shelves Oct. 25, would make an ideal hook for a Keys co-promotion for at least two reasons: to celebrate the brothers’ hometown and to give Frederick residents an early look at the slick, coffee-table book packed with recipes for dishes that some might have tasted at Volt. But by late October, as Bryan Voltaggio notes with a laugh, “baseball was over. We couldn’t release the book [earlier].”
So now it’s a big, book-release party, period.
“There’s going to be bands there,” the Volt chef says. “It’s in a baseball stadium, but think more of a concert and fun, a family-oriented sort of event, where kids can run around and try our take on concessions food.”
The chefs’ take on concessions will likely include some sandwiches and/or snacks from Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack, the surprise offshoot of his freshly opened ink. in Los Angeles. There might be some modernist twists on stadium food, too.
“Last year, we did some really great burgers,” Bryan Voltaggio says. “I mean, it was more in the summertime. We had a frozen gazpacho that was made with Dippin’ Dots. It’s actually similar to a recipe that’s in the book. So we might be doing some fun things like that.”
If a gazpacho made with Dippin’ Dots strikes you as strange, wait ’til you see the entire “VOLT ink.” cookbook. It’s organized not by appetizers/mains/desserts, or even by the seasons, but by families. Plant and animal families.
“The publisher had this sort of competition piece in there, like, ‘Okay, we’re going to give you asparagus, and Michael you give us an asparagus recipe and Bryan you give us an asparagus recipe.’” Bryan Voltaggio recalls.
“And we’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s all well and good, but what if I don’t have an asparagus recipe in my repertoire?’ It doesn’t make sense because then we’re forced to create, rather than showcase things that we’ve already accomplished or done. That’s when we came up with the way we categorized it. We thought it would be really true to us if we were able to be within the same family of food and be able to pull ingredients that we currently have on our menus. It made it much easier to put the book together. We didn’t have to fake dishes and make up things or change garnishes on plates.”
Plus, as the chef notes, the plant and animal classifications allowed the brothers to introduce the subject of family without, you know, opening up any closets to reveal a skeleton or two.
“I always see carrots and coriander together, but why?” Bryan Voltaggio says. “Not everybody knows that they come from the same family. We thought that would be sort of a cool spin because we wanted it to be about family, but yet we didn’t want it to be just about our life stories. We wanted it to be about us in the kitchen as chefs.”
“VOLT ink.” isn’t designed for amateur cooks, at least not amateur cooks whose kitchens are bereft of thermal immersion circulators, smoking guns, vacuum sealers, combi-ovens, food dehydrators and other tools of the modernist chef. With its emphasis on the cutting-edge of cuisine, the brothers’ cookbook stakes out the same territory as other chefs pushing the boundaries of cooking, whether Grant Achatz at Alinea, Rene Redzepi at Noma or Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. For the brothers, this wasn’t a matter, as Bryan Voltaggio says, of snubbing home cooks. It was a matter of staying true to themselves.
“What was important to us was [to] come out of the gate with our first work as being something that truly showed what we do on a daily basis in our professional kitchens,” he says. “We understand that a lot of these dishes will not be able to be recreated at home easily. But we also know that there are some pretty aspiring home chefs now. So I would say that 50 percent of the recipes that are in there would be easily replicated at home if the time was spent and the steps are followed.
“My repertoire of home-cooked recipes is probably far short of what I do in my kitchen on on a daily basis at Volt,” he continues. ”I think this is a little bit more rooted to who I am as well. You know what I mean? I think it’s a more honest approach.”