Chef Michael Voltaggio is no stranger to a schedule. It’s the basis of his practice, after all, to stay on deadline when preparing dishes that must be served on time. He won Top Chef that way, and he’s continued to thrive by designing and remodeling a new restaurant in Los Angeles, ink.well, in just 10 days. Whitewaller spoke to Voltaggio about his crash-course in design, and his work with Dewar’s, through his multiple Scotch Egg Club activations and the recent collaborative Traveling Whisky Emporium.
WHITEWALLER: You first opened ink in 2011 in L.A., and recently closed it, opening a new restaurant, ink.well. What is special about this new space?
MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO: The new space has a larger bar area, encouraging more of a social experience on top of the dining experience we previously offered at ink.
WW: You have personally designed your restaurants. What was the starting point for this one?
MV: Because of the quick turnaround, I couldn’t waste time, so I figured it’d be faster if I just designed it myself. I quickly learned that designers work their asses off.
WW: You remodeled ink.well in under 10 days. What was that like?
MV: It was like having a year’s worth of work in 10 days to do it.
WW: Can you describe the cuisine at ink.well? What’s a not-to-miss dish?
MV: We have some of the ink classics, like the egg yolk gnocchi and the apple dessert, but we’ve added some more casual fare, like our version of a burger, fried calamari, and the endive salad, which is my favorite. We’ve also incorporated a full bar program and have a cocktail on the menu inspired by the Penicillin, which I’ve become a huge fan of after working with Dewar’s.
WW: You also started working with John Dewar & Sons last year for the first iteration of the Scotch Egg Club. What has been your most exciting collaboration with the brand?
MV: We designed a tiny house called the Traveling Whisky Emporium. It has personal touches from both myself and Gabriel Cardarella, the North American brand ambassador. I specifically worked on the kitchen to incorporate everything needed to be fully functioning, but also a smart use of the small space. During the Scotch Egg Club in L.A., which was hosted at ink.well, we parked the Traveling Whisky Emporium outside of the restaurant and, my brother, Bryan, and I served boozy milkshakes made with Dewar’s 18 Blended Scotch Whisky.
WW: In an interview with us earlier this year, you said, “Presentation is another art form for me.” What stands out to you in terms of presentation?
MV: I like minimal presentation, with one or two surprising components, that catches your eye.
WW: You’ve also previously said that you think lots of menus were crafted from ego and not necessarily from feedback from the guest, and that your ego has “been checked.” What type of menu are you creating now that you weren’t before?
MV: I’ve added some more approachable flavor combinations, like our burger, our corn dish, and a little gem salad to complement and balance out the more adventurous menu items.
WW: What type of environment does your restaurant provide? What type of environment do you like to be in most when dining?
MV: My restaurant is not too dressed up, with hints of hip-hop, punk rock, art, and Southern California sophistication. I personally prefer to be eating seafood on the ocean.
WW: What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
MV: Getting to make people happy for a living.