Michael Voltaggio dishes on leaving the Langham and on his upcoming venture
July 17 marks the end of an era for Michael Voltaggio. After a year in the Dining Room at the Langham Huntington Hotel, the "Top Chef" champion will have his last day of service. He'll soon be heading out of Pasadena, looking for new digs to settle into. Though he's currently doing the celebrity chef thing at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., he took a few minutes to chat with us about his future restaurant venture.
Krista Simmons: Because of your personality and your style of cooking, everyone was surprised that you stayed at the Langham for so long. Why leave now that they're renovating?
Michael Voltaggio: I had to come to terms with the fact that I either stay in Pasadena and be at this restaurant being branded around me, or I can do something on my own outside of the Langham. I decided I want to make my own place. ... At the end of the day I know that no matter what, that restaurant wasn’t mine.
KS: Can you tell me anything about the concept of your future project?
MV: It’ll definitely speak volumes about my personality. I want to make fine dining food more accessible to more people. I want to get past the whole pretension of it.
KS: Will it be something experiential, like the Bazaar?
MV: Jose [Andres] is a genius, and he set a high expectations. I could never compare it to that -- it’s a very special place. I learned a lot from Jose, but it won't be the Bazaar. The food people have known me for in L.A. will be what the new place is all about.
KS: What neighborhoods are you scoping out? Is there a possibility that you might not even stay in L.A.?
MV: Restaurants don't just fall out of the sky, so it'll be a while. My goal is to stay in Los Angeles. I love L.A. and think it's the most exciting food city to be in right now. ... I'll be looking in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, places with a lot of foot traffic.
KS: What about downtown?
MV: Downtown is a little tricky. I think the guys who are down there are killing it, but it’s not my scene. I love the idea of going in somewhere that’s been around for years.
KS: Will the new project involve your brother, Bryan?
MV: Bryan is running a very successful business right now, so I’ll definitely look to him for advice. He’d be behind the scenes, but not involved creatively. He'll be a mentor, but not a partner.
KS: Are you prospecting for any partners or other chefs to go into business with?
MV: Not so much. The whole point of me opening a restaurant is wanting to have that whole experience. I want to be the reason that I succeed or fail. I want to do what all the great chefs have done and create a brand of my own. I'm going to build a restaurant that's open five nights a week, and I'm there those five nights. I want people to sense it was my hands making the food.
-- Krista Simmons
Photo: Michael Voltaggio in the Dining Room's kitchen making molecular buffalo wings. Credit: Krista Simmons