Viewers weren’t predicting Michael Voltaggio to win Wednesday night’s Top Chef finale — and neither was he. “I was literally in shock at that moment,” he said, calling from Los Angeles Thursday morning and recalling when Padma Lakshmi declared him the winner. “I was totally, 100-percent sure my brother Bryan won.” Now that his victory is sinking in, Voltaggio, 30, has more time for reflection — and he opens up about competing against his brother, his “rivalry” with Kevin and why think he’s arrogant. –Brian Orloff
So why were you so sure your brother Bryan was going to win?All season long we tasted each other’s food basically by the way it looks. We don’t get to eat the other one’s food, and that night we saw each other’s food course by course by course. And Bryan’s food to me consistently looked better than both Kevin and mine. So hands down, Kevin and I were both like, “Dude, you won!” In the end I think it just came down to the flavor of the food.
What was your mother’s reaction? I’m sure it was complicated for everyone.She was trying to be comforting and excited at the same time. I think it was really difficult for her. I was upset because had it not been my brother that I was standing there with, I would have felt great. I wouldn’t have cared. There would have been only one emotion — and that’s happiness — but it was mixed because I’m trying to celebrate. But the same time, Bryan would have been the first person I called on the phone. And I couldn’t do that.
Your brother seemed genuinely excited for you.He was definitely excited for me. Bryan’s awesome. Obviously if one of us wasn’t going to win, we wanted the other one to win. Had we been at home sitting on the couch, we certainly would have been cheering for each other. It was bittersweet for everyone.
Let’s talk about Kevin’s food. What did you mean when you called it simple?The deal with Kevin’s food is it’s so understated when you see it. We never really ate each other’s food so when I sit there and I’m running all over the kitchen and I put together this crazy, artistic, beautiful dish, Kevin’s over there going through the motions. At first glance, I’m like, “Wow, wait a second, I know my food is better than that.” But then towards the end, the group got smaller and smaller, and I got to taste Kevin’s food and I have to say, it’s amazing. Kevin for sure deserved to be there in the end and was definitely a contender to win this competition. I mean, the guy’s a phenomenal cook.
What do you want to know about you now as a person and chef?Obviously as a chef you want to show them what you’re capable of: I’m an artist and I think I portrayed that. I cooked what I wanted to cook at the moment I wanted to cook it, and that’s me. As a person, get to see a small fraction of who you really are. Get to know me a little better because there are probably some out there who would mistake confidence for arrogance. I watched myself on the show too — and I’m like, “Wow, that guy’s cocky. That guy’s kind of an a–hole.” But then I’m like, “Wait a second, that’s me.” So you see yourself in that scenario and I was watching it and thoroughly entertained and wondering what’s that guy going to say next.
What’s next for you now that you’re Top Chef?I’m going to stay put. Right now Bryan and I are working on a Web site where we can work together and brand ourselves together. What that means in the future, I’m not sure. Certainly books and things like that — we’re talking about. But we’re going to do it slowly. We don’t want to remove ourselves from our kitchens too fast. You’ll find Bryan and I both behind the stove where we belong. Virginia Sherwood/Bravo