Bryan Voltaggio: Return of the Mac-aroon

The winning chef talks about competing against his brother and the inspiration behind his crowd-pleasing dish. First, it’s the second episode, but what is your impression of the other chefs at this point?
I am very excited about the caliber of chefs this season. Even though I did not compete in past seasons, the resumes this year say a lot, so I am confident in saying that this year is different. We have several chef’s who have worked for some of the best chefs in the country as well as some who have achieved their fair share of accolades. After meeting everyone at the house and getting a sense of who’s who I still am very confident that I can hang with all of them.

Who do you think your biggest competition are after the first challenge?
The first challenge means a lot in retrospect — once the last plate is served and you finally catch a breath, you size yourself up against the rest of the group, if you're still there. The relay showed who had solid fundamentals, and or who has confidence in themselves. The Elimination Challenge demanded creativity and I saw a few embrace the challenge and some who did not even get it. I think at this time it still is too early to tell who to watch out for. All of the remaining chefs have their own talents and some are very well-rounded. This means the challenges themselves could pose problems and or help some prevail even if I believe they are not a threat. Your brother makes a comment in the episode that you’ve already accomplished what he hopes to — owning your own restaurant. Is there anything you would say that you still want to accomplish that you haven’t that your brother has?
In Episode 1, Michael mentions that he is my biggest fan when we are not competing against one another. I have to say I feel the same way. Michael has accomplished a lot of great things as well. He can claim a Michelin Star, and was part of the opening of the Bazaar that earned Jose Andres four stars — some great accolades. I know that Michael with patience will also open a place on his own.  OK — the Quickfire. It was all about the ingredients in this one, based on pure luck. What was the inspiration behind your dish?
It was a very quick decision. I simply took a classic yet familiar flavor combination and built the dish from that. I chose peas and carrots. Knowing that if I rolled a 10-12, I could add ginger, lemongrass, and many other complimenting flavors. Simple — if I rolled a lower number, peas and carrots are good on their own. Your brother won the Quickfire, but you said he sometimes relies too much on techniques (molecular gastronomy presumably), were you worried that he did that here?
You know that was a clever move. I give him a lot of credit for pulling out the nitrogen first. Scares the rest of the group who has never even seen it, proves to the rest this guy has been around. And with something so simple as gazpacho, he elevated it to the next level. He deserved the win. Onto the Elimination challenge, what did you think of the whole concept of Battle of the Sexes?
Mike I. seems to be the expert on this topic, ask him. (Editor's Note: Ha!) What was the concept behind your dish? How often do you make it?
The macaroon is something that I use at my restaurant a lot as part of my canape course on my tasting menu. The idea is to create a very light flavored shell that is crisp so layers of texture can be achieved with a smooth puree or pudding. Using the idea of a margarita and chips and dip came from the bride. She said one of her favorite places in L.A. to eat was a restaurant with authentic Mexican cuisine. Naturally I thought, "How can I take the tequila shot and change it into a margarita with my dish?" Furthermore, why not add the thought of tortilla chips and guacamole; the combination is classic. I must say that normally these macaroons in the Mid Atlantic using a dehydrator takes about 10 hours to prepare; I took a huge risk trying to pull this off. I relied on the environment, being in the desert to dry the macaroons overnight. Were you worried at all the play on “chip and dip” wouldn’t translate?
I was at first; there was a lot of explaining to do here. But I then thought if I just make it taste good and pair well with the tequila then if the concept did not go over well at first, then maybe I would get a second chance to explain at Judges' Table. That is the goal anyway — the food should just make sense and taste good. Traditionally, food is paired with wine — how familiar are you with pairing with cocktails or liquor?
I like the idea; there are so many different things you can do with a cocktail and liquor. Take bourbon for example, the toasted wood, caramel notes, vanilla, so many flavors to build from. At my restaurant we have a 21-course menu. The table has four seats and is literally in the kitchen. The opening course is a cocktail that changes with the season which is typically built around a classic food flavor combination.

Was this aspect difficult?
No, I thought the challenge was a lot of fun. You had to think out of the box a bit. What did you think of the rest of the food offered?
I try not to get too caught up in other's dishes. I saw a few I really thought made sense conceptually, but taste and the judges' perception is what matters most. What did you think of the judges’ comments?
I thought the comments were well thought out; not trying all of the dishes it is hard to compare critique. However it seemed that they really spend a considerable amount of time deliberating on who is on top and who is on bottom. It gives you a good feeling that it is really about the food!

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