Michael Voltaggio’s Costly Meal Ticket
It's safe to say that when you appear on a hit competition show watched by millions of people, your life tends to change a bit. Even though it's been a few years since trailblazing culinary sensation Michael Voltaggio took home the top prize on "Top Chef," he's still dealing with the love/hate relationship many fans had with him on the show — and as he knows all too well, thanks to his chosen profession, that tastes may vary.
"I left the restaurant that I was chef at, went to compete for the finale of 'Top Chef.' This was gonna be like a 'Rocky' movie or something," he grins. "The only purpose of that moment was the purpose of winning."
Voltaggio's win-at-all-costs ferocity, however, was interpreted harshly by the cameras. "I come back and realize I've just set myself up for something different. I've gone on television, won a competition, but become this character that was an arrogant, cocky guy," he shrugs. "If you do reality TV, you're exposed to the process of editing.
"Not to say I didn't say the stuff that came out of my mouth, but it could definitely have been articulated [better]," he reasons. "Now, I'm going to be playing this game to justify myself to people forever."
Although "Top Chef" was a turning point, in Voltaggio's mind it was the opening of the Bazaar by José Andrés that truly made his career. "I had to figure out how to take José's vision and teach it to 42 cooks and 40-plus service staff," he remembers of his mission. "I'd never even been to Los Angeles.
"So, I come out here and open it, the review comes out from the L.A. Times, and we were sweating," he remembers. "We were really hoping we'd get three stars, but we read it and the review was four stars!
"That changed what people thought about restaurants in Los Angeles," he explains. "It was just a different type of restaurant.
"But I ended up divorced, and my family never actually made it out to L.A.," Voltaggio says of the collateral damage behind his triumph. "I could probably blame a good bit of my career for that. And I'll be spending a lot of time in my life trying to figure out how to put that part of the puzzle back together.
"Everybody's like, 'I have no regrets along the way,'" he says, warning all those who want TV stardom to be careful what they wish for. "Well, now I have this lingering regret in my mind that will never go away, and that's the fact that I can't be in my children's life every single day.
"Everyone just assumes, 'Oh, you did this TV show and got famous and now all of a sudden you have your own restaurant and this and that,'" Voltaggio explains. "But they don't know the sacrifices that you truly have to make."