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Game Changers 2014: Michael Voltaggio

The 'Top Chef' winner is pushing our taste buds to the limit with dishes like octopus over buttered popcorn puree.
Ed Anderson

With dishes both simple (egg yolk gnocchi) and inventive (octopus over buttered popcorn puree), top chef Michael Voltaggio is always finding new ways to reinvent the meal. His next great course: a new Travel Channel show in 2015, Breaking Borders, in which Voltaggio and a war correspondent venture into historical conflict zones and gather people from both sides for a meal and conversation. “It’s been a life-changing experience,” he says.

Of all the accolades Michael Voltaggio has racked up over the years—a Michelin star, a James Beard nod, Top Chef victory—he’s most proud of being named Best New Chef by Food & Wine. A little ironic, considering he’s been cooking in kitchens since he was 15. “My brother (Bryan) was the sous chef at a Holiday Inn,” he recounts. “I wanted to get a car, so I started working for him.” After a series of career game-changers—an esteemed Greenbrier culinary apprenticeship, and working for prestigious chefs like Charlie Palmer and Jose Andres—Voltaggio finally has a restaurant of his own: ink in West Hollywood, where he’s taken the idea of fine dining and made it more accessible for everyone—“not just the top one-percent,” he says. Even more accessible: his sandwich shop-spinoff, ink.sack; a second location just opened at L.A.X.

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Game-Changing Kitchen Gadget: VITAMIX
"No matter where I go, whether it be India or Singapore—anywhere really— everyone is familiar with the word 'Vitamix.' It’s the one piece of equipment that gets used in our kitchens the most because it’s so versatile—you can make soups, sorbets, healthy smoothies. It’s the one tool I cannot live without."

Game-Changing Cooking Technique: DEHYDRATING
"It's one of the coolest techniques right now: Making powders out of berries, making different forms of tea, making jerky for a healthy snack."

Game-Changing Ingredient: VINEGAR
"Cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar...Adding acid whereas before we would just immediately jump to salt as a seasoning. We keep vinegars now in those travel-sized pump-spray bottles, and before a dish goes out, we spritz a little vinegar on top of the dish to add a little more seasoning."

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FIT FACT: When he's not hiking, Michael hits the gym and works out with a trainer three days a week. He recently bought a SPECIALIZED carbon road bike.


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