Michael Voltaggio wins 'Top Chef: Las Vegas' title, beats brother Bryan
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/10/2009
Michael Voltaggio was crowned Top Chef: Las Vegas' winner during last night's finale broadcast of the Bravo culinary competition series.
"I'm really exhausted and surprised and happy and sad. I didn't know that you could actually feel every single emotion at the same time," Michael said after his victory.
"It's been a rough road -- it's been a pretty strange process -- but it was worth it. I would do it again because it definitely got me in touch with who I am as a person and who I am as a cook."
The 30-year-old from Frederick, MD who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA claimed Top Chef's sixth-season prize package of $100,000 in seed money to help open a restaurant, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen; and $100,000 worth of merchandise provided by Macy's.
Michael's brother Bryan Voltaggio, a 33-year-old from Frederick, MD who currently resides in Urbana, MD, finished as the runner-up.
"I'm more proud of the fact that Bryan and I made it all the way to the end than I am about winning the entire competition," said Michael. "It was probably one of the hardest moments of our lives. I wish both of us could win."
"I'm disappointed a little bit in myself," added Bryan. "I set out to win the whole thing, so coming in second place, that's tough. But I'm proud to see my little brother win. I'd rather him than anybody else."
Kevin Gillespie, a 26-year-old from Atlanta, GA, finished third.
"I had a bad day. It just sucks one day ruined it for me," Kevin lamented after his ouster.
"I'm proud of making it this far and I'm proud to lose to people as good as Bryan or Michael. I was the underdog from the very beginning that managed to rise up and show that if you fight really hard you can make it. It just didn't go all the way."
Top Chef: Las Vegas' finale broadcast began with the three remaining finalists traveling to a Napa Valley vineyard, where they were met by host Padma Lakshmi and lead judge Tom Colicchio.
Tom explained that for their final challenge, the finalists would each be cooking a three-course meal. For the first course, the finalists would be cooking with a set of identical mystery ingredients, while for their second course they could cook any dish they wanted with any ingredients found in the kitchen. For the third course, they were required to cook a dessert.
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The finalists then each randomly selected two of the 14 previously-eliminated contestants to them for the final challenge -- one on the initial prep day and one on for the actual service day.
Kevin chose Preeti Mistry and Ash Fulk, Bryan picked Ashley Merriman and Jennifer Carroll, and Michael selected Jesse Sandlin and Eli Kirshtein.
"I'm a little jealous of my other two competitors," opined Kevin.
The chefs discovered what mystery ingredients they'd be working with for the first course before getting to work -- which would include three hours of preparation on the first day and three hours of cooking on the second day.
On the morning of the second day, the three finalists were surprised to be visited by their mothers. Tom then revealed that the finalists would also be cooking a fourth course that would be dedicated to their moms and inspired by their favorite childhood dish. The three finalists then started cooking.
Kevin's mom-inspired course was fried chicken skin, tomatoes, and a liquid squash casserole; his course with the mystery ingredients was rockfish in duck fat, roasted matsutake, and roasted crab broth; his chef's choice course was a slow cooked pork belly, roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts, and caramelized ham jus; and his dessert was roasted banana, chocolate bacon mousse, and peanut bacon brittle.
Michael's mom-inspired course was cream of dehydrated broccoli, spot prawn and fried broccoli; his course with the mystery ingredients was a butter poached rockfish, tomato-komba sauce and sweet and sour salad; his chef's choice course was a fennel-scented squab, cassoulet, and textures of mushrooms; and his dessert was a chocolate caramel coulant, and butternut squash ice cream.
Bryan's mom-inspired course was a tuna noodle casserole; his course with the mystery ingredients was a sous vide rockfish, diced matsutake, and meyer lemon jam; his chef's choice course was a venison saddle, brussel sprouts, sunchokes, and maple-glazed carrots; and his dessert was a sheep's milk and white chocolate "dulce de leche" cheesecake, dry caramel, fig sorbet, and poached pear.
The finalists presented their courses to a finale dinner panel which included regular judging panel members Padma, Tom, Food & Wine magazine editor Gail Simmons, and restaurant critic Toby Young as well as chef Douglas Keane, Terlato Wine Group president Bill Terlato, their moms, and restaurateurs Donatella Arpaia, Stephen Starr, Drew Nieporent, and Sam Nazarian.
adma, Gail, Toby and Tom then met the three finalists to critique the final dishes.
Bryan's fish was criticized by Toby for not being bold enough, while his venison was praised by Gail and Tom. Padma complimented Kevin's chicken-skin dish, however Toby and Tom thought the pork wasn't as good as it could have been. Toby thought Michael nailed the matsutake and pickled tomato, and Tom thought all of his dishes were successful. Michael also acknowledged the cake was overcooked and dry.
The judges then began their final deliberation.
Gail thought Kevin's mom-inspired course had the most flavor, while Toby liked Bryan's the best and Tom thought it was too bland and also wasn't a fan of Michael's.
Tom complimented Michael's use of the mystery ingredients was the best, while it was agreed upon Kevin messed up on the mushroom on his dish. Gail thought Bryan's dish had no texture.
Tom and Gail thought Bryan's third dish was flawless, and Toby agreed -- however he didn't think it was as memorable as Michael's, which Gail wasn't a fan of. None of them really cared for Kevin's third dish.
They all knew Michael didn't make his dessert the right way but Gail still liked it, and Toby summed up the day for Kevin.
"I thought Kevin's dish was again disappointing and -- don't get me wrong, I think he's on the fast-track to becoming a culinary superstar -- but he had a bad night," said Toby.
The three finalists were then called back and Michael was revealed as the winner.
Bravo renewed Top Chef for a seventh season in October and subsequently held casting calls in San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Washington, New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles.