l.a. diet

Chef Michael Voltaggio Raids His Brother’s Kitchen, Orders Takeout Undercover

Michael Voltaggio at ink.

Michael Voltaggio at ink.Photo: Krista Simmons

Michael Voltaggio is well known for his modernist kitchen skills, both at his restaurant ink. and on television. But when he's at home, the tatted-up Top Chef title-holder trades in the anti-griddle for a panini press, opting for less complex food than you'd find at ink. "If I was to write down everything I put in my body during the day, we'd have to have a four-hour long interview," Voltaggio tells Grub Street. "I'm tasting sauces and butters and different proteins and sea urchin to see if it's fresh, so when it comes to the end of the day, I just want something simple and comforting." In today's L.A. Diet, Voltaggio shares his love of congee and cold brew, along with a penchant for peaty, "old-man" Scotch.

Wednesday, September 19
I try to start my day with a wheat-grass shot and a carrot-apple-juice blend from Beverly Hills Juice. There's a new menu every day based on the produce they've gotten, and they press it fresh each morning. It's cool to support another local, small business. I live off Melrose, so it's not too far of a drive. I started doing it because I'm not a big breakfast eater. I love eggs and stuff like that, but that's the meal I have on my day off.

We started using Handsome Roasters' coffee, and we make our own batch of cold brew every day. It's like rocket fuel. That stuff keeps you jacked up for the day. We were going through it so fast that they got tired of running it up here, so they taught us how to make it on our own. It's dangerous to have buckets of it here though.

Then I flew from LAX to DC to cook with Bryan [Voltaggio] for a Share our Strength dinner. I love flying Virgin because you just push buttons, and the food comes to you. I had an in-flight turkey sandwich with havarti. I really love sandwiches. That's why I have a sandwich shop. I don't eat meals at work; I drink juice and stuff. But when I get home, I want to get something hot. That's why I love panini presses. My classic combination is mixing turkey and salami. I buy the expensive lunch meat though; I'm not messing with bologna or scrapple, unless it's scrapple from Lindy & Grundy.

Once I got in to D.C., I just sat at the bar at Volt because I didn't want to distract my brother while he was ironing out some kinks with Matt from Noma for the dinner. I ordered the goat-cheese ravioli with vegetable ash from the bar menu and an old-school lobster roll. The most important part of a good lobster roll is how you grill the bun, making sure you get that warm, toasty, buttery outside. My favorite one in L.A. is at Son of a Gun.

Thursday, September 20
I stopped at Chick-fil-A. Yeah, controversial, I know. When I'm traveling, I crave things I don't normally eat. I didn't even eat chicken, though. I got a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, then headed over to the restaurant.

We were tasting each other's food throughout the day for the reception and the dinner. After dinner, Bryan's team created this huge family meal on an outdoor BBQ spread at midnight. We all grubbed down on BBQ chicken and hanger steak and all sorts of sides and casseroles. It was really good home-cooked food, and all the staff were eating on picnic tables.

Then we all went out for some cocktails. I stuck with Scotch. I love the peaty Scotches — you know, the old-man stuff. After all of that, I was pretty wasted, so I went into my brother's kitchen and made myself something to eat at three or four o'clock in the morning. I remember eating it and thinking, This is so good, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.

Friday, September 21
That big four o'clock meal was breakfast, so the next thing I ate was on the plane on the way home. I got a roast beef banh mi and a fruit-and-cheese platter on the plane.

Back in L.A., I got a tuna panini and a mushroom pizza from Mozza 2 Go. Same thing every time, and they deliver to my house. They never know it's me that it's coming to. You know when you go to a restaurant yourself, they always give you a bunch of stuff that you don't order? It's great, but this way you get what you want. It's my little secret.

Saturday, September 22
I grabbed a cold fried-chicken sandwich from ink.sack and and iced coffee before coming in to work. Fridays and Saturdays are generally our busiest days, and we usually do staff meal at around 4:30 p.m. Some of the cooks will study different dishes, and we'll do something more than just scraps from the night before. We try to challenge each other so we're learning, but it's also hearty and nutritious before service.

Sunday, September 23
Sunday was the 5x5 collaborative dinner, so we had Josiah from Melisse, Michael Cimarusti from Providence, Rory from Bouchon, and my brother was here, too. It was a big night, so I wanted to do something special. So I had Ricky of Ricky's Fish Tacos come out and set up in the parking lot and make fish tacos for everybody. It doesn't matter what Ricky does. It's just right. I am in love with his tacos. I was just in Ensenada, actually, but his are still my favorite. Everybody was stoked.

To close the night off, Cole [Dickinson, chef de cuisine at ink.] also made us some fried rice. We have a lot of Asian condiments here, so we end up doing a lot of Asian staff meals here.

Monday, September 24
When ink. was under construction, we would go over to Robata Jinya for lunch every day because it's close by, and it's a treat to get their ramen or the yakitori. It's pretty authentic, and you don't have to drive very far.

For staff meal that day, they made congee. It's porridge-y and warm and comforting, and it fills everyone up for the night. We riff off of chef Morimoto's recipe. That filled me up for the rest of the night.

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