'Top Chef' alumnus Bryan Voltaggio talks Baltimore dining

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Bryan Voltaggio, the Frederick-based chef behind Volt and Family Meal, is coming to Baltimore. The "Top Chef" alumnus is opening an Italian restaurant named Aggio this spring at Power Plant Live.

Aggio is also the name of his new Italian restaurant in Washington's Chevy Chase Pavilion. That Aggio is actually a restaurant within a bigger restaurant named Range that Voltaggio opened last December.


Voltaggio knows Washington diners well — before opening Volt, he earned his chops at D.C.'s celebrated Charlie Palmer Steak. Aggio at the Power Plant Live might be his first restaurant in Baltimore, but Voltaggio says he is a fan of the city and likes what he has seen of its dining scene.

The modern chef is busy. Voltaggio spoke to us on his drive to Baltimore, where he was meeting a contractor at the Power Plant. He had spent the morning at a re-scheduled photo shoot for a forthcoming cookbook.


When you're looking at hiring kitchen staff, what's more important coming in, temperament or skills?

Temperament. Skill can be taught. Somebody with the will to learn is all I need.

What kind of temperament are you looking for?

Great work ethic … someone who asks questions, somebody who comes with a notebook ready to write down notes, somebody who's prepared and organized, and also [whose] appearance is clean and professional in a way that they come in ready to excel in their position.

And that's for back of the house and front of the house?

That's for both. That's for any position. I want a waiter who comes in with a Moleskine in their back pocket. That's what I want to see.

I sometimes think I can tell fairly quickly when I might be walking into a bad restaurant. Is there a first sign you look for?

I try doing a lot of research ahead of time before I go out to eat. However, if I feel like I'm walking into something that's not going to be great, then the first thing I do is just order a drink, and then I decide from there — whether it be a cocktail or just a piece of service that I can see, whether it be presenting a glass of wine. Or I just start talking to people at the bar, then get the sense of whether I'm going to commit to the full evening or not.


What tips you off that you've come into a good restaurant right away?

There's a lot of things with that. It's the decor and ambience. There are certainly old and classic restaurants that should never change that we're OK about. Those typically have a really warm welcome when you're walking in. ...

If I'm going to a fun place, I'm looking for full seats, I'm looking for a great vibe, great conversation and laughter.

... If I walk into a restaurant at 7:30 at night and I don't see that kind of a of vibe, then I'm going to get nervous.

What's your impression of Baltimore's dining scene?

The growth in the Harbor East area has been fantastic, not only for restaurants but for tourism. Obviously, Spike Gjerde has created some really great experiences. … I admittedly have not eaten in any of Cindy Wolf's restaurants, but I'm so glad to be able to be a neighbor now, so I'll definitely want to spend some time there.


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I see an opportunity for more growth. … Not that there isn't a whole lot of great restaurants in Baltimore, but there surely is nowhere even near as many as in the District right now. I just think that there's more opportunity for new in Baltimore, and that's exciting.

You're in this really great area of being close to agriculture, close to the water, close to being able to get ingredients into the city. You also have such a talented and really strong work force, who are ready to serve.

What's better between Baltimore and Frederick: Interstate 70, or I-95 and 270?

Oh! [laughs] Which commute is better? Because of the new Intercounty Connector, the 200, I can sneak into Baltimore and have lighter traffic on the way in, and then swing down mid-morning or midday or evening and get into D.C. and create a triangle. ...

It's very easy for me to get in and out of the city … That's why I chose the location. Yes, there's a lot of foot traffic. But also ... I can spend a considerable amount of time here, because I really want to.