Well, inked at Ink Restaurant in West Hollywood. See what the star chef has to say about his life as an edgy, rebellious restauranteur.
Written By: Christine Williamson We Got Inked by ‘Top Chef’ Michael Voltaggio
Photographed By: Shane Radacosky
If you’re native to Los Angeles, you’re lucky. You grew up in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America and you were raised with a palate that’s had the opportunity to savor everything from sticky Korean chicken wings, superior seafood and indisputably the best tacos north of the border.
If you’re new to Los Angeles, you’re also fortunate. Our city’s food scene has swelled in the past five years, giving rise to more chef-driven restaurants than ever. Food trucks have taken a back seat to beautiful brick and mortars, where atmosphere is just as important as what is on the plate.
This expert knows what Los Angeles is all about—unique cuisine, changing tastes, fresh ingredients and a creative look on what it means to bring people together over a good meal.
Eat Expert: Michael Voltaggio, Owner and Head Chef, Ink Restaurant
Fresh Ink: Voltaggio is close friends with famous LA tattoo artist Dr. Woo
Puppy Love: Michael Voltaggio’s adorable French bulldog, Kimchi, pulls in quite a few likes on the chef’s Instagram.
In the culinary world, Michael Voltaggio is a force to be reckoned with. He started in the kitchen when he was 15 years old. He’s the winner of Top Chef Season 6, was named “Best New Chef” by Angeleno magazine in 2009, was voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine in 2013, and is chef and owner of acclaimed restaurants Ink & ink.sack in West Hollywood.
Q: You competed against your brother [Bryan Voltaggio], who was the runner-up. What was it like competing against your brother in such a high-pressure environment?
Michael Voltaggio: I was barely 30 years old at the time, and to me it was just a cooking competition, not a TV show. It’s like competing against your brother when you’re little kids. One of us needed to win! It was bittersweet. Glad it was me but, of course, I wish we could have both won. He has nine restaurants, and we are currently building something together on the east coast as well, so he’s not hurting from his loss on Top Chef!
Q: What do you remember most from filming Top Chef?
MV: Winning—at the end when the whole process was over. That moment made the whole process worth it. There was only one option for me, and that was winning.
Q: Ink, along with ink.sack, both opened to critical acclaim in Los Angeles. What was your inspiration behind each concept?
MV: I was looking for what the diners would be looking for. We have so many great ethnic restaurants: Korean BBQ, Mexican, sushi, Ethiopian, Chinese—everything is here—so rather than taking inspiration and just trying to create this fine dining experience, it was important for us to go and grab authenticity in order to create an authentic restaurant, directly from the people who had been doing it for years and years. The goal for the restaurant was to be a modern Los Angeles eatery. Now, four years later, it’s just about cooking good food without any labels.
Q: How does it feel having Ink celebrate four highly successful years in Los Angeles?
MV: It still feels like the first day. We’re not closed yet so that’s good. The fact that we survived four years and we’re still busy, still paying the bills and still have people that enjoy working here, means to me that four years later we’re more than a restaurant, we’ve become part of the community, and that was the goal—to be a part of the city that I live in.
Q: What are you doing to keep the menu fresh at Ink?
MV: You have to surround yourself with new, creative talent, and you can’t micromanage the creativity that happens. I want to create an environment where people are encouraged to bring something new to the table. With the menu now, we focus on each dish like it’s a project; every week there is a new project to tackle. And above all, you still have to look for what your guests want; it’s called the hospitality industry for a reason.
Q: You’re quite covered in ink yourself; tell us about your tattoos and who is your favorite tattoo artist?
MV: When I was younger, I went wherever I could afford to get a tattoo. Now I am fortunate to live in LA, which I think is home to some of the best tattoo artists in the world. My friend Dr. Woo is one of my artists—Jason Stores at Tattoo Lounge in Venice. This city is so full of creative people and it’s so cool how we can all learn from each other and apply it to what we do. Woo and Jason are two great examples of that.
Q: You’ve got something new in the works in LA, what concept is going on there?
MV: Yes, our new restaurant will be on the Sunset Strip. To me, Sunset is one of the most important streets in the entire city and there’s so much history just within a couple miles. I hope the grungy essence of the Strip stays but, at the same time, I think it’s time to help it evolve. As far as the concept, it will be much smaller and more intimate than Ink. I’m building my dream kitchen. I’m building something that will hopefully allow the guests to be as much of a part of the cooking process as they want. It’s an open space, and the goal is for it to be a creative space.
Q: Favorite food city?
MV: That’s hard to answer. Right now, the hometown, LA.
Q: How important is social media to you as a chef and for your industry?
MV: The ability to distribute information has become more important than the information that’s being distributed. I think as a society we should take a step back and refocus on the content that we share with each other and not just how fast we can share it. I’m big on social and I love the ability to interact with people all over the world 24/7.
Q: You have a French bulldog named Kimchi who makes quiet a few appearances on your Instagram feed.
MV: Yeah, my girlfriend and I went to Koreatown after a long, booze-filled lunch at Petrossian in West Hollywood, and we ended up in a puppy store, and there was this beautiful French bulldog puppy. I wanted to name her Lil Kim, because she was little, but because we got her in Koreatown we added “chi, ” so she became Lil Kimchi. She’s like a human, she runs the household. She’s a G!
Q: You collaborate with a lot of great people. What goes into that process?
MV: I work with a lot of brands, but I don’t work with brands that I am not a fan of. I’ve collaborated with Naked Juice, Lamborghini, NoKidHungry, the LA Mission and Williams Sonoma, just to name a few. Any food-related charity where I can use my skills to feed people in need is important to me. I spend my year cooking for people who are fortunate enough to enjoy eating at the level we cook at, so it’s definitely nice to cook for people on the other end of that spectrum.
Q: You were featured on Breaking Borders on the Travel Channel, What was that experience like?
MV: I live in my own little bubble here in LA—I work a lot and that’s it. To get out of here and go to 13 different countries within eight months was incredible. The concept of the show was to go into conflict zones around the world and bring two sides together around the dinner table. We went to Israel and brought Israelis and Palestinians together. We went to Egypt, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Rwanda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, among others, and had conversations with real people, trying to understand both sides of the conflict and then facilitate a meal and a conversation. I traveled with Peabody Award-Winning journalist Mariana van Zeller. Hopefully I left a little piece of myself in all of these different countries. To travel is to learn – not only what you’re experiencing in these different places, but to learn about yourself as well.
Q: Plans for conquering 2016 and beyond?
MV: New restaurants, maybe a little more television. Every day when I wake up I get excited for the potential projects coming my way. I like being a part of new things.
8360 Melrose Ave Ste 103
Los Angeles CA, 90069
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