If this cooking thing doesn’t pan out, the Voltaggio brothers ought to consider a career in comedy. At a cooking demo at this morning’s L.A. Food & Wine Festival, the two were like a pair of Borscht belt yukkers with Bryan playing the straight man — the suave, deadpan Dean Martin — to Michael’s kooky, hyper-kinetic Jerry Lewis. They were born for the stage. Michael, known to locals for his restaurant Ink and the adjacent sandwich shop Ink Sack, was joined by his older brother Bryan, co-owner and executive chef of Volt Restaurant in Frederick, Maryland. While the audience sipped mimosas, Michael guzzled champagne straight from the bottle and cracked jokes, revealing, “We didn’t know what we were going to make at this demo until about 6 a.m. this morning. We were oiginally going to call this demo ‘Brakfast with the Voltaggios,’ but that sounded awful. We decided ‘Hungover with the Voltaggios’ sounded better.”
Whatever the unofficial name for their demo, the Voltaggios ran through the prep for a typical weekend breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and coffee cake — typical if you own an immersion circulator and a vat of liquid nitrogen.
Bryan made the coffee cake, a basic recipe that gets some extra oomph when topped with a scoop of bay leaf ice cream. As the elder Voltaggio says, “I believe everyone should have ice cream in the morning.” His five-year-old son would undoubtedly agree. While Bryan mixed the butter, flour, cinnamon, etc., Michael used a highly specialized gadget to transform a peeled potato into a single long, thin sheet. Wrapped and trussed, the “potato cigar” was then deep-fried. The eggs were actually egg yolk gnocchi made from yolks that had been passed through a sieve, vaccuum packed, cooked for an hour, chilled overnight, combined with olive oil and salt, poured into a pastry bag and dropped into boiling water. As for the bacon, it was pork belly that was vaccuum packed, cooked, shaved, re-vaccuum packed, slapped, tickled and eventually fried. We lost track of the number of steps. Cut to Bryan, completely deadpan: “I’m just making coffee cake.”
“It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not,” Michael asserted while extolling the virtues of the pressure cooker. “People are calling this new stuff ‘modern cooking’ or whatever, and pressure cookers have been sitting in people’s cabinets for years.”
Back to Bryan: “You know what’s really cool about the coffee cake? It has a cinnamon swirl in the middle.”
In the kitchen as in life, Bryan seems happy to play it straight while Michael engages in all manner of wild and eccentric experimentations. Hence, the coffee cake. It was a weekend staple in the Voltaggio house during the brothers’ youth, and today at LAFW i was also a big hit. (“What other demo did you get food and champagne at?” Michael inquired. After all, the brothers had to compete with Guy Fieri’s avocado and chicken spring rolls.) While few of us will ever sous vide our breakfast bacon, the coffee cake is utterly doable. That’s the idea, Michael said. “The point is you can actually go home and make this today.”