Back in 1997, when Bryan Voltaggio was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, he had to dream up his own restaurant for a class project. He wrote a plan for a place in his hometown of Frederick.
Now, after ten years working for celeb chef and restaurateur Charlie Palmer at Aureole in Manhattan and Charlie Palmer Steak on DC’s Capitol Hill, Voltaggio has struck out on his own. He opened Volt (228 North Market St.; 301-696-8658), in a historic Frederick mansion, last month.
Calling his restaurant Volt wasn’t part of the original culinary-school plan. “My partners wanted to use my name, but Voltaggio is so Italian, it sounds like spaghetti and meatballs,” he says. “I cook Modern American cuisine, and I didn’t want to confuse people.” Voltaggio’s dream restaurant has certainly changed since the idea was hatched at the CIA, but coming home to the town where both he and his wife grew up was always in the back of his mind. Though Voltaggio’s parents have moved away, the hometown feel is still present. “People have come in and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you since high school,” he laughs. “That happened three times on Saturday night!”
On a rare break, Voltaggio shared some of his food favorites. We learned that the chef/restaurateur is a fan of Top Chef, likes surf more than turf, and doubles as a pastry chef—his current favorite dish on Volt’s menu happens to be a dessert.
Favorite summer produce: “Sweet corn is fantastic. And peaches from Pryor’s Orchard, just south of Thurmont, Maryland. I’m on a mission to go get some this afternoon.”
Favorite place to shop for groceries: “For me, Common Market in Frederick. It’s an organic store, kind of a blend of Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic. I think it’s just local to Frederick. They use all-organic produce, some from Tuscarora Organic Growers—I also buy wholesale from them.”
Drink of choice: “I’m a big coffee drinker. A local roaster here, Dublin Roasters, does six different roasts for us right now. She’s three blocks away from me. I drink it black. I used to drink it with cream and sugar until I was introduced to great coffee. I’m also a bourbon fan. I’m half Southerner—the Mason-Dixon line is very close. I love single-batch bourbon; there’s a lot to them.”
Favorite dish on the menu at Volt: “Actually, it’s a pastry. I make a shortcake that I’m serving with some local blackberries and two quenelles of sorbet—blackberry and lemon verbena. Then I take corn purée mixed with caramel, shoot it through a canister used for foaming, and blast that foam into liquid nitrogen to freeze it. It tastes like caramel popcorn. The reason why I picked this one is because it uses local ingredients but modern techniques. It’s a lot of fun, and it really shows what we’re doing at Volt.”
Favorite junk food: “Prior to the restaurant opening, I think I stopped eating a lot of junk food. I didn’t have time to eat! I chew a lot of gum. I like Orbit. You know why? They always have new flavors. They make sangría and mojito gum! How brilliant is that?”
Favorite late-night snack: “That would be pizza. In Frederick, I’m still looking for a place. I used to love Pizzeria Paradiso and 2 Amys in DC.”
Favorite neighborhood restaurant: “When I have the option, there’s a new one that just opened in Frederick, a barbecue place called Black Hog. I just had some sandwiches there the other day, and it was awesome.”
Favorite special-occasion restaurant: “Restaurant Eve is on the top of my list. I’ve celebrated more things there than any.”
Least favorite vegetable: “Vegetables are my favorite. I guess I haven’t understood okra yet. Fried it’s good, and in jambalaya and stews it’s great, but it’s just something I haven’t worked with that much.”
Dessert or cheese plate? “I have to say that I need to have both to have a complete meal! Cheese is a great bridge to dessert. I use fresh chèvre in a cheesecake right now.”
Surf or turf? “It would be surf. I know that sounds bad since I worked at a steakhouse, but I’m over meat. Fish is just much more versatile—there are so many cooking techniques and things you can do with it. It’s more fun to work with as a chef. And to eat, too—I’m happy with a half bushel of crabs and a beer. I’m a Marylander.”
Culinary mentor: “It would be wrong for me not to say Charlie Palmer. I worked for him a total of almost ten years. He’ll come out to the restaurant, probably closer to the fall. Also, Gerry Hayden, who was chef de cuisine at Aureole. It was the first time Charlie handed over the restaurant to someone else. He was a huge influence on me. I cooked for Gerry and [pastry chef] Claudia Fleming’s wedding on Long Island.”
Fridge staples: “Organic soy milk because my boy can’t drink regular milk yet. A variety of microbrewed beers. A couple pieces of cheese and dried, cured meats. I get home at night and have beer, a little cheese, maybe some soppressata.”
Favorite Food Network show: “I always Tivo Iron Chef.”
Favorite Top Chef contestant: “I thought for sure Richard Blais was going to win. I’m always totally off when I make assumptions with that show.”
Tom Colicchio or Padma Lakshmi? “Colicchio, of course. I love his style of cooking, and one of my favorite restaurants in New York was Gramercy Tavern when he was cooking there. He and Charlie [Palmer] have similar ideas about great American food using great local produce.”