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Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Voltaggio want to know: What's a chef gotta do to pay his dues?

March 10, 2011 |  5:08 pm

Voltaggio

L.A. chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Voltaggio say they have cried and bled in the name of their profession, so the eighth paragraph of a New York Times story today about Sam Talbot -- a third-place "Top Chef" alum now opening Imperial No. 9 in the Mondrian SoHo in Manhattan -- came with a dose of disappointment. 

The story said: 

Mr. Talbot ... is among a new breed of celebrity chefs who have coasted into culinary fame, less by grueling dues-paying, and more on their telegenic brand. The group includes the brothers Brian [sic] and Michael Voltaggio, Ludo Lefebvre, Spike Mendelsohn, Sam Mason, Fabio Vivani and Marcel Vigneron.

These new schoolers tend to have tattoos (Mr. Talbot has 10), use hair gel, wear man jewelry and sport gym-buffed physiques clad in tailored flannels, designer denim and $50 T-shirts.

It was enough to drive both Lefebvre and Voltaggio to call and text the Los Angeles Times: 

"I'm very irritated," said Lefebvre, who is in the middle of shooting his Sundance Channel television series "Ludo Bites America." "I started cooking at 14 years old, left my family, worked six days a week, got my ass kicked in the kitchen 16 hours a day. Trust me, it's very hard to work under a three-star Michelin chef. I cried every night in my room when Alain Passard kicked my ass, or Guy Martin, or Pierre Gagnaire. I was head chef at l'Orangerie for six-and-a-half years, head chef at Bastide for two years, both had five Mobil stars. Seriously, what do I need to do to pay my dues?" (Meanwhile, Lefebvre says his pop-up restaurant LudoBites will return to Los Angeles in July, with an all-American theme -- a take on his travels across America for his TV show.) 

[Updated March 10, 5:58 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Lefebvre was head chef at l'Orangerie for eight years.]

Voltaggio, who won "Top Chef" in season 6 and is getting ready to open his Melrose Avenue restaurant Ink., was quick to defend his brother, Bryan. "My brother delivered pizza to get through culinary school. Both of us started at 16, that's 16-plus years of experience each. I lived in New York and made $350 a week and could only eat at work because I couldn't afford food. Nothing was ever handed to me. I have and still do work my ass off.... It's only now that chefs can make a decent wage and it comes from branding and the extra things we do outside of work (which gives us more work).... I'm truly insulted by this, I have mentally and physically given myself to my craft."

Voltaggio was previously executive chef at the Dining Room at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena and chef de cuisine of Jose Andres' Bazaar. He mentions he also worked for Charlie Palmer and staged (worked for free) at restaurants during vacations, "peeling vegetables and cutting lobsters 'til my hands bled."

Both Voltaggio and Lefebvre are indeed tattooed and inclined to wear designer jeans. "Sorry, I have tattoos," Voltaggio says. "I like them. And I wear designer jeans because I can finally afford them and don't need a suit." 

-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Michael Voltaggio at Jose Andres' Bazaar. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times.

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