Young and Hungry

Why Did ‘Top Chef’ Feel Like a Movie Script Featuring the Voltaggio Brothers?

voltaggio pic

God knows I respect the Voltaggio brothers' talent, not to mention the willingness of at least one of the siblings to extract himself from a safe, high-profile kitchen position to try something riskier,  like opening his own restaurant.

Which is part of the reason why I could never figure out why Bryan and Michael Voltaggio were on season six of Top Chef to begin with. Neither needed the career boost, and neither really seemed the type to go work for a celebrity chef.

I mean, both of them have already done their tours of duty with celebrity chefs: Bryan worked for years with Charlie Palmer in New York, Las Vegas, and D.C. Michael earned four stars from the Los Angeles Times as chef at The Bazaar by Jose Andres. Bryan has since opened his own place, VOLT, in Frederick, while Michael has gone to the Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena, Calif., which has earned a Michelin star.

I was thinking about these facts as the brothers stood before the judges' table during this year's finale of Top Chef. The Voltaggios were the last two chefs standing, a pair of prodigiously talented brothers who played up their sibling rivalry all season — hell, before the season even. For the final episode, Top Chef producers went one step further: They flew in the mothers of the final three contestants, mostly, I figured, so that we could watch the drama of Mom Voltaggio trying to console one son while congratulating the other.

At some point in this melodrama about which Voltaggio brother would top the other, I had a vague sense of un-ease, which finally coalesced into this thought today: This conclusion feels like the work of a screenwriter as much as the product of a TV reality series. I couldn't escape the feeling that the whole season had been scripted to reach this very concluding moment between two siblings who have been snipping at each other since childhood.

I'm sure I'm wrong about that. But I'm also sure about one thing: Top Chef has pretty much lost all its charm.

  • KMango

    Sure, it's just TV and who knows what's "real", but that was not my read of the season at all. A couple of other highly credentialed chefs have competed and fallen off due to various bloopers. Granted, choosing two brothers is instant drama (just add sous-vide water), but I received no impression that this was a pre-determined outcome.

    I also don't see Top Chef as having "lost it's charm". To me, that would imply watering down unique attributes in an effort to appeal to the masses. Instead, I see the show as having necessarily evolved and now attracting a much higher level of talent than in the early years.

    I do miss the first few seasons, thinking about what I would do under the gun of such challenges like "vending machine appetizer". What this season's chefs did effortlessly far eclipses my most refined culinary skills.

    But I learned something every episode, am pleased there was no romantic nonsense this season, and look forward to seeing if and how the show continues to evolve next season. And if they can somehow throw in a challenge or two where home viewers can imagine how they would play along (and keep up), that would be outstanding as well.

    And no, I'm not signing up with my sisters.

  • Jenna

    Maybe this is naive, but do you think they possible could have been in it for the money? Or the knowledge that just by being on the show, attendance at both of their restaurants would go up? It seems like being on Top Chef gives your business a boost - and shrewd businessmen should know how to take advantage of the publicity.

    I long ago came to the conclusion that all reality TV shows are as much about the producers as the contestants. They're all scripted - it's just the nature of the genre.

  • Simon

    Disagreed. I thought this was the best season in years.

  • stickmoon

    ^+1 Best season ever.

  • Jude74

    This was the best season talent wise ever. I hope you realize that by having true profesionals on the show it actually killed a great deal of the reality TV stuff. They had to do some interesting editing to get any sort of controversy out of this season because the chefs were really about the food. I enjoyed this season as a result as opposed to season five that I stopped watching mid -way through. Top Chef regained a lot of lost credibility by having real chefs on the show as opposed to a house full of Robins.

  • Tim Carman

    It's funny. I feel like Top Chef should be about talent that bubbles just under the surface of executive chefs like the Voltaggios, whose skills have already been confirmed by media power brokers. It should be about sous chefs and ex. sous chefs and caterers like Carla Hall, people who really can benefit from this kind of exposure. People who really deserve to benefit from this kind of exposure. There is talent far down the line in kitchens, and I don't exactly want to call it selfish that executive chefs, well-known ones, are now all over Top Chef. (I'm not sure I'd turn it down either, if I were in the same position) But I wish the producers would work harder to find talent farther down the line.

  • dan riley

    I have to agree with Tim on this one. I think the show should be about the NEXT batch of chefs, the ones that don't already have their own place. Having a lineup of Exec Chefs also takes the arrogance level through the roof, which is why I stopped watching mid-season. The Tatooed Volt brother and Mike from Zatinya were too much for me to handle.

  • O&C

    Such chefs/owners need Top Shill exposure to financially benefit their restaurants. They and Bravo are in the business of making money. Viewers can line up to savor the efforts of currently successful contestants, whereas noble career charity and goodwill is less tangible or immediately edible.

    Consider the graduation rate of previous seasons' contestants and how many have realized their dreams of becoming chef/owners.

  • Simon

    The Glad Family of Products is sending a hitman to your door, Tim Carman. Sleep with one eye open.

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  • Adrianna

    I loved this season, especially compared to the 5th. Now the 5th felt scripted in regards to the Leah/Hosea nonsense. Top Chef went downhill in the 2nd, redeemed itself a bit in the 3rd, an took a dive sometime during the 4th season. You can Tom Colicchio was frustrated at the lack of dedication and knowledge, and most of all professionalism some of the chefs showcased. The Judges' Tables weren't too much of a circus during the 6th season which was refreshing.

    Like someone else said, the brothers could have easily entered the competition to simply expand upon their careers. I hope Top Chef 7 will have chefs of this great caliber - the 6th season was easily the best season yet. Aside from the Robyn nonsense, I felt like the majority of the episodes really focused on the food. The whole brother situation certainly offered producers to really milk it, but no one can deny that both chefs were talented on their own. Also, Bryan's demeanor and professionalism does not give any inclination that he was there for the wrong reasons.