Richard Blais

Richard Blais explains how Michael Voltaggio's passion may be the reason for his win.

on Dec 11, 20090

"It's the only thing I know how to do. It's probably the only thing I ever will do."

Last night, we weren’t treated to the customary back and forth arguing that we usually see from the judges in a Top Chef finale. All of the chefs seemed to cook well enough. Based on the editing, no one really prepared any one dish that was a revelation and no one seemed to obviously implode. What we were left with was a basic question, "Why should you be Top Chef?”

To me, that's where the decision was made. You could almost read it in the faces of the judges as he spoke.

Michael Voltaggio wasn’t winning any personality contests during his season. His confidence barely perched on a narrow wire that hangs just over arrogance. His stoic demeanor, at times, seemed robotic and cold. And on a competitive television show, someone has to be the villain.  Michael seemed happy to take on the role, sometimes with vigor.

But somehow in the waning moments, the bravado-filled chef, found a way to set that aside and speak from the heart.  To me, his closing argument was the deal sealer. In a few sentences Michael got me to understand him, to relate to who he was as a chef.

I've been waiting to hear his story every week. Where does his inspiration come from? Why does he think differently? Why is he stoic, cocky, and aggressive ?

Maybe because at one time in his life, all he had was cooking. It's all he knows how to do.  And I get it.

It's about validation.

Some of us (read: Me) and I'm assuming Michael, cook because we want, so badly, to make people happy. And we cook because we want to show people that we really ARE good at something. That we are better than the grade we got in junior high chemistry, are more than the stupid kid from down the block who ran with the wrong crowd.

Our industry is full of these types. People who have been kicked, or failed, or just have wasted talent early in their lives. The kitchen becomes a safe place to stay out of trouble and if you’re good at it, a great place to find passion.

And ironically enough, Mrs. Voltaggio is there to witness.

Look at what not doing well in high school is. Look at what working for minimal wage and tremendous hours look like. Look now, mom...

Most of us are chefs because we want our mom or loved ones, or enemies even, to see that we can become something more than a ... cook.  Because let’s face it, that's a derogatory word in our profession.

Bryan and Kevin have their own restaurants to point to, but Michael deserves one.

And, seemingly, out of nowhere, Michael Voltaggio became more human last night. He showed humor, joy, understanding, and great compassion toward his competitors, especially Bryan.
Congratulations on the win, brother.

And to the rest of you, I’ve enjoyed your comments this season. Thanks for reading along.  You can keep up with me at Twitter (@richardblais), my blog www.richardblaisblog.blogspot.com and at www.trailblais.com

Enjoy the holidays and have a happy new year!

29 comments
penny Tipayanon
penny Tipayanon

Richard, Congratulations on your new title "Top Chef".

I was so happy for you. I have been a fan of you since season four. When Padma said Richard, you are a new "Top Chef" I was in tears with joy. Congratulations again, you deserved it.

woman companion
woman companion

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Viewer1984_0915
Viewer1984_0915

Yours is easily my favorite blog of all the past contestants. Please say that you'll be writing for the next season!

marykay
marykay

I HAVE WATCHED EVERY SEASON AND ALWAYS HAD A FAVORITE ---BUT THIS YEAR I REALLY COULD OF CARED LESS. THEY WERE ALL VERY INTO THEMSELVES, VERY NASTY--TO CERTIAN OTHER PEOPLE ON THE SHOW.I HOPE THERE ARE BETTER CONTESTANTS NEXT TIME AROUND SO I CAN WATCH. THIS TIME I ONLY HIT AND MISSED ---NO GREAT LOSS.

P. Tipayanon
P. Tipayanon

Richard, Thanks for your input. I was teared up at Micheal's winning. I wanted Bryan or Kevin to win also, they both are very good chefs.

sparky403
sparky403

I have enjoyed your blogs a great deal and agree that you're a talented writer, as well as chef... Hope to read your blog for next season.

As for the comp. I think anyone of the top 4 could of won... Michael just brought it went it counted! I get very surprised reading these blogs and the outrage at Kevin, or Bryan not winning - it's almost as if more than the judges tasted the food....

Karen  M
Karen M

Richard what u said is what I felt too,Michael spoke from his heart and I too think that is what the judges felt too. And I think he was so deserving of being Top Chef,he is focused when he is working and everyone gave him grief for not acting like Kevin,Kevin a heck of a guy and a great chef too,just that Michael wanted it more and is a very good chef.

Mark VZ
Mark VZ

Since you were already featured on Inside the NBA on TNT, and since you're in Atlanta, I think you should volunteer to help Charles Barkley achieve his mission of losing 50-60 lbs. You should contact the show and offer to be his consultant ... or even personal chef. I'm sure they (or he) would pay you -- and it could be great publicity.

Just a thought.

msboxer
msboxer

Richard, You are one bright guy. You always have a special point of view and I understand more after I read your blogs. Clearly, you have an array of talents and you express yourself well. I'm glad Miachel won, but the editing, every time I rewarch the episode, really does point to Brian. Remember that Hung predicted Michael would win before the show even began. I have immense respect for you chefs. I have trouble getting a meal together now, but didn't always. I wish someone would also tell us how much cleaning up you guys do after the cookng session, I see people scrubbing down the ounters, but I do hope you guys got help with all the cleaning up. Good luck in your new venture.

Cocophony
Cocophony

Interesting blog, but I'm gonna choose to take the judges at their word and believe that Michael's food edged out the other competitors just the teeniest bit, instead of believing it was all about a final verbal pitch.

This was a great season. The final four were and are extraordinary chefs. I hope they will all go far.

gigicalif
gigicalif

Thanks Richard, you got it too. When Michael answered that question, w/ the passion & conviction he felt about his craft I actually got goose bumps because it was coming from a genuine place in his heart. Regardless of how he was portrayed in the show, this last episode really showed his true character.

Arrogant he may have come across, but you know the guy loves loves loves what he does!!! Thanks Richard for your insight, hope you continue to blog. Hear Eli quit his job in Atlanta & going to NY. Wish him all the best.

Burtram
Burtram

Richard, thanks again for the eloquence & insight. I live a couple of hours away from Atlanta, so we're in town (mostly for concerts) several times a year. My husband & I were there in mid-October, & it was only after we had left FLIP that it occurred to me that Kevin also had a restaurant in town. I have been a huge fan of Kevin's since this season started, but eating his food wasn't even on my radar, simply because I can't resist the fabulous fare we have enjoyed both times we've made it to FLIP (the okra tempura in October was simply outstanding, by the way). I just wanted to let you know that when it comes to voting with my patronage, you are literally the Top Chef to me!

qoqo
qoqo

Top Chef/ Godfather Mash-up:

Bryan as the self-assured DeNiro don Michael as Sonny, the hot-head culinary swordsman Kevin as the underestimated Michael before liquid nitrogen filled his veins You as Tom Hagen the astute consiglieri

Seeing the four of you go to the mattresses would be an offer no TC fan could refuse.

Blame this on your Eli blog that played like cinema verite. Thanks for adding much to a memorable season. I hope we continue to hear from you and of you.

mmc
mmc

I still think Kevin was the winner. A chef should be the sum total of all his parts. All season Kevins dishes were delicious, presented beautifully, and made by a chef who loved what he was doing.I think the rottenest part of the show was when Padma said KEVIN, you are not the winner!That was so unnecessary.Leave the final three and announce the winner.It was done that way for drama so the two Brothers were left standing alone.Rotten, rotten, rotten!Also I wish Bryan could be given a monetary gift for having been a runner up.He deserves it, not only because he's a great chef, but because he, like Kevin is a classy guy!Also why doesn't Padma blog?If she has no interest in the fans maybe she should leave the show.I always liked her but i feel like it's just a job and that's all. I hope she could tell us what the problem is so I could change my tune.Thanks Richard....good blog!

schizoesque
schizoesque

Hello Chef Blais, I've enjoyed reading your posts as well (both here and at Creative Loafing)... must this be your last TC Blog? I sure hope not! ;) And I've yet to encounter the pleasure of your cuisine. Someday, somehow...

Have a wonderful holiday season and all the best to you! ~Chel

Herschel
Herschel

Hello Chef Blais, I've enjoyed reading your posts as well (both here and at Creative Loafing)... must this be your last TC Blog? I sure hope not! ;) And I've yet to encounter the pleasure of your cuisine. Someday, somehow...

Have a wonderful holiday season and all the best to you!

@schizoesque

BGirl
BGirl

Dear Richard,

I have waited with baited breath these past few days to get YOUR take on the conclusion of this finale. You didn't disappoint. You nailed finale - part 2. When the 3 chefs left standing had to endure an obstacle course of cooking to the finish line, they all seemed spent. Then came the question! Bryan and Kevin were almost frazzled and dispassionate in their responses. Actually, they were forgettable. However, Michael's reply was exactly what the judges would remember and consider with more weight than whatever he cooked. In S-3, Hung made it to the finale based on the same criteria (since his dish did not wow the judges). That said, I am more disappointed in Michael's win based more on that answer than the allusion (via editing) that Bryan's dishes had less flaws. I still feel Bryan should have won. On another note: Kevin's dessert seemed like a riff of your banana scallop.

Miked
Miked

Thanks for an eloquent and intelligent post, it really touched on a thread of the show's narrative that I have generally felt to be tragically overlooked. This isn't a show about beauty pageants, or public service, it is about chefs. Some of my best friends are professional chefs and I know that for every polite and demur Eric Ripert there is a young Anthony Bourdain type, sneering at the waitstaff and putting punk rock into food. I'm not saying one type of chef is better than another, because that would be ridiculous, it is all about the food that comes out of that kitchen, and not the attitudes that inhabit. With both Eli and Michael V you have shown an empathy and intelligence that should be congratulated. You were a great contestant, and you remain one of the show's best assets. Keep up the good work, and I hope I can eat your food someday!

Brian C.
Brian C.

Left a bone in the fish, Padma could not eat the egg and then he burned the cake. Why is he top chef? Drama is the answer. Not sure if I'm going to watch any more.

Nellie
Nellie

Richard,

I agree with you 100%. I believe the decision was made not based on the food, but on Michael's response. I admit even I teared up at his response, and imagined him as a teen coming home from a rough day at school and going straight to the kitchen. Ultimately its a win for both brothers, because I'm sure Bryan was Michael's prime reason and inspiration for even becoming interested in the craft. I see Bryan as the big brother in the kitchen showing his little brother new recipes, how to use the knife properly, etc. I feel by giving Michael the win TC was investing in a dream/vision. (Although deep down I do feel Bryan deserved the win, I can see the logic.

Unregistered Viewer
Unregistered Viewer

That is exactly how I felt. You nailed it. I am a musician and it works exactly the same way. I didn't want him to win because I thought he was so full of it, but he really surprised me at that moment. When I heard how desperately, sincerely, and genuinely passionate he was about what he does and how that is the way for him to exist and express himself, there was no mask that concealed him beneath cockiness (of necessity or otherwise). You only see that face when someone really loves something or someone. It's rare to see it, and it's hard to let yourself go and express that, because often times people don't follow their dreams. He did, he stuck it out, because it means everything to him, and for that moment I felt a lot of things -- as you said, connection to and an understanding of who he was, sympathy, well-deserved admiration, tenderness and innocence because of his passion. I don't know. It was a profound moment for me. Now I am stretching it way out in my mental replay. But, there you go. I totally hear what you say here, even though I don't cook, because passion has the same face no matter what the object.

Ti
Ti

Wise, wow! Your words are spot on; I had not looked at it from that perspective. Thanks for the new view!

Vinnie Satuito
Vinnie Satuito

Hi Richard, Thanks for your perspectve...once again you hit the nail on the head...it is realy hard to be a perfectionist, such as Michael...I really did not think he was arrogant...he was not mean or anything like that, he just called a spade, a spade...he demands nothing from others that he does not demand from himself...I admire that...but in the end, you really saw the real Michael...and I was touchd to see Bryans expression, on how proud he was of his little brother..just like in any normal family, itis harder for us to share emotions with our family than with strangers... I hope to see yu still blogging next season....good luck and enjoy your firs Christmas with your new baby.. Take care always and Happy Holidays..

CarlaD
CarlaD

You have insulted a lot of chefs by stating the kitchen is place for guys like you who would get into trouble as young men and who did not do well in school. My son is a chef. He was an excellent student in high school and never was in a bit of trouble. He went to a major university for one year to to study computer science and then decided he wanted to follow his true passion, cooking or the culinary arts if yo will. He attended the CIA (four year curriculum) and is a great chef despite not being a trouble maker and/or poor student!

JosephSh
JosephSh

Richard:

Enjoyed reading your blogs all season - thanks for taking the time to write them. And I agree with your assessment of Michael; I think I was able to see that attitude all throughout the season, which is why his arrogance and cockiness didn't bother me.

cynthiana
cynthiana

I completely agree with u there. very well said, all of it- Amen. Loved reading your blog

PeachPie
PeachPie

Chef Blais, It's a lucky person who's good at, and loves doing, something that makes others happy. You are indeed very lucky.

But, my dear friend, you are also very talented at something else. You're a gifted writer. So, even though I've never gotten to eat your food, I have had the pleasure of reading the things you write. So thank you. :)

Hope you return to blog next season. You have no idea how much I've enjoyed your blog each week. Til then, I'll be seeing you at your other blog.

Holly P
Holly P

Yeah, there had been something nagging at the back of my mind this whole time. Something I didn't want to admit to myself. It was, simply put, after Michael's comments I didn't mind him winning. Had he made his point of view clear from the get go, he might have even won fan favorite. Top Chef appeals to many walks of life because is doesn't talk down to people who are arm-chair foodies. There are many of us who get up, go to work, come home with nothing special going on who can relate to something so obvious as wanting to please and wanting to recieve praise for a well cooked meal. After all, most of us fall in love with our parents first and they are the ones who, in theory, provide us with loving meals. It is an obvious connection. I still wanted Bryan or Kevin, but I can't hate on Michael for his win. Thank you for putting it into words for us.