The Only Thing

The Only Thing

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

"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 and at

Enjoy the holidays and have a happy new year!

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