Interview: chef Michael Voltaggio (ink. + Breaking Borders)

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Chef Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Michael Voltaggio


Moving forward, how has “Breaking Borders” influenced your vision for the restaurants you plan to open in the future?

Moving forward, I’m having to trust my staff a little bit more, because I am out of the kitchen. It’s building a team, and I don’t say letting go – I’m not letting go at all – but feeling comfortable. Going back to your earlier question, I wasn’t ready to go back to television since the last time because I hadn’t built my team yet. Now I’ve got such an amazing team, whether it be Cole [Dickinson] or Andrew [Viragh], my general manager at ink., the guys behind the bar, or all the sous chefs. We now have an overstaffed restaurant. For the first three years at ink., I thought we had an understaffed restaurant. Now I feel like we’re overstaffed, and it’s not because we have more people, it’s because the quality of people we have here, and the training we’ve put into them, are allowing me to go out and do other things, whether it’s filming this show, build another restaurant or take a day off.

What do people have to demonstrate when you’re looking to hire at this point and has that changed since you first opened ink.?

When you first open a restaurant, I don’t want to say you’re a little less picky, but I don’t think you can fully understand what you’re looking for until you turn the machines on, turn the stoves on, start cooking and plug people into the stations. Now, we have a culture here, so for us, it’s about bringing people in, introducing them to our family and seeing if they want to be a part of that. It’s just people who want to work hard, people have passion about food, people who have passion about service. We’re going to grow – I don’t want to say faster – in the next four years, versus the first four years. We’ve grown a lot in these four years within the environment we’re in. That will provide us the opportunity to physically grow over the next four years and hopefully expand into more environments.

Who else in the restaurant industry do you look to for guidance or advice at this stage?

I talk to my brother a lot, on a regular basis. He definitely gives me advice and is pretty good at opening restaurants. Joy [Limanon] is one of my closest advisers. She’s not just a publicist. She’s become a life coach in some regard. José Andrés, I still talk to him regularly to get advice, but really, I talk to my team. I talk to the people I’m surrounded with every day, because they’re going through it with me. If they don’t feel good about the decisions I’m making, I need them to be happy about those decisions. I need everybody on board, so I talk to my team, the people who work with me. Cole Dickinson is my rock. I talk to that guy more than I talk to anybody else in my life right now. He’s the guy who helps me make decisions, because he’s become more or less a partner for me now, in the restaurant company.

What are some strengths that your brother has in the kitchen or as a restaurateur that you most admire?

Bryan is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my entire life. His ability to manage a large operation is impressive. Bryan was an executive chef at a Holiday Inn before he decided to stop, go to culinary school and do his externship at Aureole in New York. He basically learned how to manage a business and then went back and learned how to cook. Now he has both. That’s very rare, for somebody to have a business mind and be an entrepreneur, but also is amazing behind the stove. Bryan has both of those. He’s pretty much gone through everything as it relates to the restaurant business or owning a restaurant. Every time I have an issue, or it’s just a recipe, I can e-mail Bryan and get advice.

When people say the name Michael Voltaggio, what would you want them to think?

For me, it’s that I gave back to my industry. The opportunities that I’ve had, I feel so grateful for what I’ve gotten to experience. A lot of my focus now is on being able to create opportunities for other people. That’s my goal right now. People hate, and that will come with going back on television. I’m sure people will go, “Who cares about that guy?” The reality is I’m putting myself out there, I’m working hard every day, and at the end of the day, it’s still my goal to take care of guests the best that I can. My guests include the people I work with, as well as the people who are coming into the restaurants.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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