What's NOT on My Resume: Michael Voltaggio

By Kathleen Squires  |  October 31, 2013
Credit: Hernan F. Rodriguez

No one starts out on top, especially in the food business. In this weekly column, chefs and restaurateurs across the country share the stories of their humble beginnings.

It’s hard to believe that the winner of Top Chef season 6 was once accused of impersonating a chef, but it did happen to Michael Voltaggio at his very first kitchen gig. “My first job was at a Holiday Inn. I was a busboy, then a room service waiter, and then I got to work in the kitchen,” the chef/owner of Los Angeles’s ink. says. “The sous chef in the kitchen then was my brother, Bryan. He told me I could work in the kitchen on a Sunday. But he was off, and the only one there was the executive chef. Bryan didn’t tell him I was coming to work that day. So I showed up in a kitchen uniform and the guy asked me if it was Halloween!”

But it was no trick or treat. Voltaggio was serious, and the chef let him stay. “I quickly learned that the kitchen is really the backbone of what was going on in this operation,” Voltaggio says. “Even though I was just running corned beef hash and eggs back and forth to a brunch buffet, it gave me a real work ethic and I realized the importance of every job there.” At the end of the shift, he found himself with his first official kitchen job: working on the line of a Holiday Inn.

Voltaggio’s ink. recently turned two years old, and he says in retrospect, “It’s the longest job I’ve ever kept,” though he has also put in significant time in the kitchens of the Greenbrier in West Virginia; Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg; Jose Andres’s The Bazaar; and The Dining Room in Pasadena. “’Where can you go next?’ has been the motto of my career,” the chef goes on. “Continue to challenge yourself and never just be satisfied with where you are.”

Today, Voltaggio admits to being a little spooked when he regards his accomplishments. “When I left my apprenticeship at the Greenbrier, Peter Timmins, the chef there, said to me one day, ‘You’re going to wake up and realize you are not the student anymore, and that you are the teacher. Are you ready for that?’ Those words still haunt me every day.”