Bryan and Michael Voltaggio first appeared on camera together in a very big way.
In the now famous Top Chef Season 6 finale (the best Top Chef season ever, btw), the talented brothers cooked their hearts out to present incredible meals to the judges. But in a reality competition, there can be only one winner (unless you are watching The Bachelor, then that’s a whole different story).
Michael Voltaggio (the younger one with tattoos) prevailed, but Bryan’s (the older one with less tattoos) classic dishes earned him a nail-bitingly close second place. It was really a victory for the whole Voltaggio family, especially considering Momma Voltaggio was in attendance to cheer her sons on.
These days when the brothers appear on camera the viewer is the winner. After considering several branding opportunities (what company wouldn’t want to be represented by two handsome, competent chefs who are also siblings?), the Voltaggio brother entered into a partnership with Williams-Sonoma to inspire the home cook to learn techniques chefs use in professional kitchens.
This collaboration did not start with a chocolate ganache mix from Bryan or an at home molecular gastronomy kit from Michael, but rather an exploration of Williams-Sonoma products that both brothers count on in their restaurant kitchens.
The mission: to create a series of videos that show the home cook how to sous vide, make sauces with Vitamix, smoke with the Smoking Gun, properly use Williams-Sonoma products, and more.
The brothers Voltaggio just returned from exploring barbeque in the South. I caught up with the chefs to learn more about their passion for this project, the video series for the Williams-Sonoma site, and how The Smoking Gun can add some smoky flavor to just about anything.
Tubefilter: How did the Williams-Sonoma collaboration come about?
Michael Voltaggio: We met them through a company that we mutually work with and we hit it off. They were a good fit for us and it seemed that we were a good fit for them. We were approached with different branding opportunities all over the place. Bryan and I wanted to make sure we aligned ourselves with something that was authentic.
Bryan Voltaggio: The best thing about the collaboration is that we have very similar values when it comes to cooking, sharing recipes, and food. We love to gather people together around the table. We are working together to do something that translates what we do in the restaurant kitchen and bring it to the home cooking realm. With Williams-Sonoma we are able to deliver that message.
Tubefilter: You are making a combination of recipe and product videos. What are your goals as chefs when you are shooting the videos? How do you want them to come across?
MV: The video that we shoot we want them to be educational and informative and at the same time. We use them as a platform to translate what we do day to day in our restaurants and make it accessible to more people.
Tubefilter: How long does it take you to prepare and shoot each video?
BV: It depends on what we are doing. If it is just an educational video or recipe it can be very quick, maybe two or three hours for a four to five minute video. It just depends on the content.
The most important thing in any of them is showing the steps in the process, especially if any of them shows a new piece of equipment. Some products many people have not used in a home kitchen. We are translating the techniques from how we work as professional cooks. You have to sometimes think twice about the messages you are delivering. It is very easy for us to lean over to one of our cooks and tell them what we need pureed smooth and I don’t have to explain anything else because they know the language. They know exactly what I am looking for in the end result. But when we are talking about the home setting, we need to be much more specific and make sure we are capturing every step of the way.
Tubefilter: Part of what you have been doing is demoing some of the chef’s tools that you use in the kitchen at your restaurant. One of the videos is about The Smoking Gun. That looks pretty fun. What is the strangest thing you have smoked with it?
MV: We smoke maple syrup, which is really good. We make home-made potato chips then after they are fried, just smoke them. They’ve been really good. Some things require more smoke than others. Maple syrup we have to smoke several times because it is viscous, but the idea behind it is really cool…Smoked pickles are pretty good. It can be anything. There are no rules.
You can put that gun to anything, smoke it, taste it and if it’s good that’s how new, interesting things evolve like smoked sea salt. Somebody tried it and suddenly it was this new thing and became this trendy ingredient that everyone is using. The inspiration is coming from somewhere and it starts with an idea. The first person who smoked a piece of fish, people probably thought they were nuts.
BV: We try to utilize the tool on everything you can to test it to its full ability. Something more unusual we experimented with is the ice cube. We smoked ice for use in the Old Fashioned cocktail.
Tubefilter: How many videos are planned all together for your collaboration with Williams-Sonoma?
MV: It’s not planned. There is a certain level of authenticity with everything we do with them, which is why I like the relationship. We brainstorm and move forward together. It’s not a cookie cutter process. They will get a product that they are excited about. Then they are excited to figure out how to communicate about it with more people. Then we come up with these video shoots. When customer comes into the store and sees it on the shelf they may not understand what the product is capable of doing. That’s where Bryan and I come into the mix. We will show you exactly what you can do with this thing and how cool it actually is.
Tubefilter: Do we need all these tools in our home kitchen?
MV: Well, that is the idea. For example, the Vitamix is the kind of piece of equipment that if you walk into a restaurant and you don’t see one, chances are there is not a real chef in the kitchen. It is a necessity. People at home are starting to cook like professional chefs. Men women children, every ethnic background, everybody’s cooking. When you want to play golf you buy the same golf clubs as Tiger Woods. Now people are saying, I want to buy that knife that Thomas Keller uses. I want to use what Mario Batali uses.
Tubefilter: Do you choose all of the recipes you film?
MV: Bryan and I create all of the recipes for the Williams-Sonoma videos that we shoot. Williams-Sonoma will usually send us a piece of equipment and ask us to create a recipe that we are inspired to cook using that piece of equipment.
Cole Dickenson and I will go to Whole Foods and actually buy groceries and go home to try to use everything that is accessible to the home cook. Lately we have been working with a grill pan that has a mesh so you can cook over a charcoal or gas grill. We went to Home Depot to buy a Weber Grill and created the recipe with this pan over the charcoal grill instead with our professional kitchen equipment.
That’s how far we take the recipes and the testing we do. I think that is the expectation they have of us. Williams-Sonoma wants people to take these recipes and go home and cook them. They genuinely want to create content that people are going to use and appreciate. They could ask us to pour liquid nitrogen on everything and to try to make the store look cool. That is not the case with them. The goal is not to show off but to teach people.
Tubefilter: Your enthusiasm for this collaboration really shows through. It seemed to have developed into more that just a branding opportunity.
MV: The best thing about Williams-Sonoma is that as much as they appear to be a huge company it has the really a small family that really cares about what they do. It is the best thing that has happened for Bryan and me.
Tubefilter: What else are you and Michael working on together?
BV: We just toured the south to capture the essence of American barbeque. We toured four states in four days trying to find that. We are shooting footage of our trip for videos on the William-Sonoma site.
Tubefilter: You also both work with Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation.
BV: We both work with Share Our Strength in many different ways. We participate in Taste of the Nation in our respective cities. Last year we hosted a dinner at my restaurant raising money for Share Our Strength. We plan to do those yearly. Michael is in the process of opening is restaurant. When it is open we will set a date to have a dinner our west in LA as well. We have a dates scheduled for late September for another Share Our Strength at Volt.