Restaurant News & Reviews

Why two ‘Top Chef’ brothers are opening their first restaurant together in Miami

Monger, the collaboration restaurant between chef-brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, is a grocery store-themed, 10,000 square-foot eatery with three separate kitchens, each specializing in different cuisines.
Monger, the collaboration restaurant between chef-brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, is a grocery store-themed, 10,000 square-foot eatery with three separate kitchens, each specializing in different cuisines. Handout

This partnership was a long time coming.

The issue was whether two brothers who have become successful, separately, in the same field — who have competed against one another, even on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” — could eschew ego to work together.

That could have been a problem for Bryan and Michael Voltaggio when they were 20-something chefs battling it out for respect in New York. But as each built a career — Bryan, the “Top Chef” Season 6 runner-up, in his home state of Maryland, and Michael, the “Top Chef” champion, in Los Angeles — they learned their greatest success could come working together.

The first test of this theory will be Monger, the anchor restaurant in the new downtown train station, MiamiCentral, that will act as a hub for all rail, including a new express train connecting Miami and Orlando. The train station will be part of an 11-acre, live-work-play complex.

“We’re testing the waters of working together,” Mike Voltaggio said last week as he and his brother were in town to survey the new train station, set to open next summer.

“For years, we should have done something together. Why wouldn’t we, right?” Bryan Voltaggio said. “This is something we’ve been working toward.”

Family is at the heart of this venture.

The brothers regularly fly to Florida to visit family — their mother lives in Orlando, their father in Tampa. Mike Voltaggio said he has been looking for a chance to spend more time on the east coast with his parents, brother and sister Staci Rosenberger, a pastry chef at one of Bryan’s Maryland restaurants, Family Meal.

Middle age might have something to do with it, too, they admit. Bryan just turned 40. Michael is 38.

Two chefs in the kitchen also solves an issue that crops up for chefs with several restaurants: How to oversee quality and consistency. The brothers say they expect to rotate so each can spend significant time in Monger’s kitchen.

“We work better together than apart,” Bryan Voltaggio said.

That will allow them to fulfill their vision for the restaurant: a place where diners can “shop” meat, poultry, fish and vegetable sections, as if in a ’50s grocery store, and the meals are prepared with a chef’s culinary flair.

Mike Voltaggio said he was struck by the idea while people-watching at a Whole Foods Market in Los Angeles, where his restaurant Ink is. Shoppers went from station to station picking out ingredients to cook at home. At Monger, the Voltaggios will be your personal chefs, working with three separate kitchens.

“We want to make a big splash,” Bryan Voltaggio said.

Being part of Miami’s downtown rival was another selling point. Mike Voltaggio watched downtown Los Angeles go from wasteland to hipster haven. And Bryan said Washington’s transit system could be a model for Miami.

Monger headlines Central Fare, the 50,000-square-foot marketplace filled with restaurants and artisanal shops, styled after Madrid’s famous Mercado de San Miguel (which inspired New York’s Chelsea Market and Atlanta’s new marketplaces).

Putting the restaurant in the heart of the inner city means bringing jobs there.

“This is our workforce right here,” Mike Voltaggio said. “Let’s create opportunities and pull people in.”

For now, it’s a matter of hurry up and wait. The station and restaurant open next summer.

“The double-edged knife of this project is that it’s a year in the making,” Bryan Voltaggio said. “The anticipation is real.”

Carlos Frías: 305-376-4624, @Carlos_Frias

  Comments