Bryan Voltaggio: The Deconstruction of a Winner
The winning chef talks about cooking for the "Chef of the Century."
Bravotv.com: Quickfire: What was it like cooking for Chef Boulud?
It was exciting to be in DB Bistro. My wife and I celebrated our first anniversary at DB in 2004. We were there one month after the Wynn opened. It meant a lot to be back there with an opportunity to cook in such a great kitchen. I worked blocks from Daniel in NYC as well when I was at Aureole so I am very familiar with Daniel and his commitment to perfection as a chef and restaurateur. I wanted to prove that I am striving for the same in this challenge.
Bravotv.com: How comfortable were you cooking the snails? Usually the taste of snails is almost covered in garlic and butter, is that the trick? Or do you really want to enhance the flavor of a snail? (Kevin said they don’t really taste like anything on their own.)
Snails have a unique mineral quality of their own, very earthy and have a similar texture to lobster and or prawns when cooked. By the way, I have never really tried an ingredient that does not have any flavor at all. Enhancing the flavor with an ingredient like garlic is classic, butter adds richness. Anything tastes better with garlic and butter! But using delicate techniques in adding flavor to an escargot dish is more the way to go if you are really into the ingredient. I believe in the latter — why cook with snails to get garlic and butter as the predominant flavor. You can just cook garlic and butter.
Bravotv.com: What went through your mind when Tom revealed that someone could be eliminated after the Quickfire?
I felt there could be a twist in this one, I definitely thought it was going to be a High Stakes Quickfire. First clue was that we were at DB Bistro and not at the M in the Top Chef kitchen. Second there was an elaborate display of the snails, an ingredient not too familiar with the majority of American chefs. I saw Mattin smiling though. When Tom announced that someone could go home, I thought to myself that it seemed to be a fair challenge to do so for a Quickfire. This challenge digs for the creativity and fundamental experience in any cook.
Bravotv.com: What was your reaction to the Amuse challenge Robin, Jesse, and Ashley had to complete?
Again this twist gives the chefs not only a chance to redeem themselves but also really challenges a chef’s ability to quickly come up with a dish that showcases their talents. How many chefs on a daily basis have a dietary restriction, allergy, and or a guest who simply would like something different? What do you do? You rise to the occasion and produce a great dish without even thinking about it. Reaching deep into your repertoire is the best tool a chef can have in such a situation. I wished the best for all and looked forward to seeing who would embrace the challenge.
Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination: You have a traditional culinary education, but how comfortable are you cooking traditional French food?
Having a traditional culinary education in my opinion did give me some advantage on understanding the key components to classic French cuisine. I understood each dish and sauce that was presented and felt comfortable working with any one of them. It is also important that while working in a team environment that the chef you are paired with also has the same understanding. However pulling off a dish that is classic French for some of the world’s greatest chefs is nerve-racking not matter what your experience is.
Bravotv.com: Did the teams work out solely based on the food pairings or who people wanted to work with?
We made sure as a group that the pairings made sense. It is so important to stay true to classic combinations in a challenge like this, to not only be very respectful to the cuisine we are cooking but to the chefs who we are presenting to. I felt the majority of the group felt the same, however there were some who did not. I believe that was due to a lack of experience with classic French cuisine and those individuals looking to pair with stronger competitors. In the end the pairings made the most sense and I felt good about coming to the conclusion we did with the groupings.
Bravotv.com: Did you have any reservations about the deconstructed Bearnaise? The way you cooked the fish?
Deconstruction of a dish or sauce is only successful if you pull it off in such a way that the classic favor combination is not compromised. Making a classic Béarnaise is not what Michael I. wanted to do and I agreed. I have experience making this same sauce and knew of ways to incorporate into the dish in a way Michael and I were both looking for. So I was confident in pulling this off. The way we cooked the trout was by curing in a light brine first, to firm the flesh of the delicate trout slightly and to incorporate some of the flavors found in Béarnaise. Citrus, pepper, and tarragon are some of the flavors we incorporated. I then cooked the fish under vacuum or “sous-vide” using an immersion circulator. I find with very delicate fish a delicate cooking technique is a great choice. The temperature of the fish and cooking bath can be precisely achieved using this method. I was very excited about the way the trout turned out. I don’t think I could have done a better job cooking the fish. I was proud to present the fish to the group. We had trouble with the last piece of the dish. I really wanted to rope the whole classic/ modern feel to the dish by adding a pomme soufflé. This is a fun classic potato preparation that I use occasionally at my restaurant. The light crisp potato added texture to the dish without compromising the pairing of trout béarnaise. It was down to the last minute that we executed the soufflés and Michael I. wanted to leave them off. We pulled them off in the end and I was ecstatic that it made the dish. I believe it helped send the message that we stayed true to classic flavors yet presented them in a fun more modern approach. This is very true to my style of cooking.
Bravotv.com: What was it like cooking for Joel Robuchon and the other legendary French chefs?
If I could only win one challenge to date this is the one I wanted the most. I could essentially go home after wining this one. Just kidding! But that is how much it meant to me — the caliber of chef sitting there critiquing your food is not only such a valuable experience as a chef, but also once in a lifetime.
Bravotv.com: How did it feel to have Tom call your food “amazing” and to hear all the positive comments from those legendary chefs?
To have those comments come from the table seemed unreal. I was thinking to myself, “Really?" I was confident of my dish, but did not expect comments like that. I am a pretty modest person; praise is hard for me to take. But this was very cool.
Bravotv.com: Have you completed your prize yet? If not, how are you feeling about it?
I have not completed my prize yet. However, I look forward to the opportunity to cook in Joel’s kitchen. As an up and coming chef I believe that any and all experience you can gain is valuable, just seeing the way he operates his kitchen will be a huge opportunity. I am sure there will be things that will influence the way I cook and organize in my own kitchen at VOLT.
Bravotv.com: How did it feel to beat your brother on this one? (You say you want to on this one.)
I felt very good about winning this challenge not only against Michael but the other chefs; this was a huge challenge for all of us. Ending up on top shows I am here to compete and that I am here to stay. I won that challenge judged by the Chef of the Century — how cool was that?