The day before Michael and Bryan Voltaggio‘s collaborative new cookbook VOLT ink. hit the shelves this week we talked over a delicious lunch at chef George Mendes’s Aldea. Sharing a meal with the Voltaggio brothers is a lens into their worlds and their bonds—to each other, their families and the people they work with. The heavily-tattooed, good-looking and highly-acclaimed chef brothers have achieved great professional success by their early thirties—having conquered Top Chef’s 6th season (Bryan came in second, Michael first), and opening eponymous restaurants (Bryan’s VOLT in their native Frederick, VA and Michael’s just-opened MVink and ink.sack in Los Angeles).
Their new cookbook is cleverly constructed around families—the one they share, their respective professional families in the kitchens of their restaurants, and the food they cook with, which is presented in an unusual arrangement of 20 family groups (from avian to goosefoot to nightshade). Each brother contributes half of the book’s 80 recipes, and this is where it gets interesting. Though they share a common family and childhood history, one that drew them both into the kitchen, their educational, professional and life experience has taken them on different though sometimes converging paths (they both worked for chef Charlie Palmer, for example, but in different restaurants in different cities). These adult experiences are the twist that brings flavor to the dishes and the methods for creating them, as the brothers seldom have the opportunity to cook together.
The book is naturally highly personal, with several of the recipes reminiscent of their childhood memories of food and meals with family and friends. Michael’s Smelt Fish Sticks with Tomato-Hazelnut cream recalls the tartar-topped fried fish stick of his youth, and Bryan recalls a trip to Memphis in his BBQ Sable Fish dish.
The beautiful book features photos by Ed Anderson, capturing both the finished dishes and the spirit with which they were made. More of an artistic achievement better suited to special meals than a useful tool for day-to-day cooking, the book features extensive use of Voltaggio favorites like sous vide, liquid nitrogen and dehydration, though each recipe offers alternatives for less skilled or less equipped cooks. The layout of the book is especially helpful for cooks looking to produce seasonal dishes, as you can browse by whatever ingredients are fresh and available.
Some highlights include Bryan’s Mock Oyster, which plays with oyster leaf and salsify (aka oyster plant) to create a dish that mimics the plants’ namesake. We also really liked the look of Michael’s Pork Belly, Big Squid Ramen in which he substitutes sliced squid for noodles.
The book’s celebration of family and the contrasting styles of the two brothers reminds us all of the intensely inter-personal nature of food and its role in our lives. The physical book is available from Amazon; an iBook version with bonus recipes and video content is available in the iTunes store.
Photos courtesy of Ed Anderson; portrait by Evan Orensten