Talking at the Pass: Chefs Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio

Our Talking at the Pass series, in which mentors and their successful disciples reunite to chat about their time together and what they learned from each other, continues.

This latest installment features chefs Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio. Palmer is a two-time James Beard Award winner, who helms New York City’s Aureole, Harvest Table in Napa Valley, and many more. His protégé-turned-powerhouse Voltaggio is a breakout star on Top Chef and chef of Frederick, Maryland’s VOLT, Range in Washington, D.C., and several other concepts.

Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio

Bryan, how did you begin working for Charlie?

Bryan Voltaggio: I began as an extern at Aureole in 1997 while I was attending the C.I.A. up in Hyde Park, New York. An instructor told me, “There’s one chef whose kitchen you need to be in – Charlie Palmer’s.” So I went down to New York City week after week. I would be in the corner of the kitchen next to the convection oven – next to where you would make your cappuccino, Charlie – cleaning chanterelles or whatever needed doing. After three weeks, Charlie came over and asked, “So, you want to work here?” I don’t know what came out of my mouth. I mumbled something. I was scared out of my mind. Upon my graduation in 1999, Charlie offered me a job there. That was the start of my career.

Charlie, what made Bryan stand out?

Charlie Palmer: I tell my sons this, “If you really want something – you gotta put yourself out there. You gotta show up. You gotta show people that this is really where you want to be.” If someone is persistent, really wants to work with us, wants to be on our team, show ups, and demonstrates that – that means a lot to me. We had a lot of young students who came down from the C.I.A. When we do a stage like that, it’s really more for them to see what they’re getting into. You’re not going to be able to tell much about them because they’re in the kitchen three nights a week just cleaning chanterelles or doing other menial work. What you can tell about them is whether they have a desire to be there and really be a great cook. How do they dress? Are their knives sharp? Do they have the right equipment with them?

How did your preconception of Charlie live up to the man who you went to work for?

BV: I was scared to go to New York City. I was 20-year-old farm boy from Frederick, Maryland. Before culinary school, I had been working at the kitchen of the local Holiday Inn. To then be in a kitchen like Aureole’s with a man like Charlie was overwhelming in some aspects. But I also knew when I walked in that this was the place I wanted to be and why I committed to culinary school. It is why I stopped pursuing a career making pretty good money at a rinky-dink hotel. I wanted to be better than that and be in the best places I could be. At Aureole, I felt I was surrounded by professionals who cared about their craft. Charlie was a part of service and in there every night. I remember thinking, “Wow. I read about this guy in Food Arts magazine. Now I’m seeing him actually cook.”

Do you remember the first dish Bryan put up that really impressed you?

CP: A lot of that happened when Bryan took over the kitchen at Charlie Palmer Steak in D.C. Once you’re in charge, you become accountable. There has to be a tremendous amount of passion. I can’t give chefs the menus and tell them what they’re going to cook. That doesn’t work for us. The thing is, Bryan wasn’t just driving that restaurant but what we were doing as a restaurant group as a whole. Some chefs are followers and some are leaders. Bryan was leading the charge.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from Charlie?

BV: I will never forget running across Park Avenue and dodging cabs because we were going to get an ingredient we didn’t have for a guest – no matter what. That’s hospitality. We always say “yes” to our guests.

Charlie, was it difficult for you when Bryan left to open VOLT in 2008?

CP: It was hard for me. It was like having a brother leave. Let me get one thing straight. Bryan says he worked for me. Bryan didn’t work for me; Bryan worked with me. There’s nothing that makes me more proud than Bryan going out and having success with his own business.Continue Reading

Chef Charlie Palmer Serves Up His Tips for Taking Kids to Restaurants

Photo: Dan Walbridge
Photo: Dan Walbridge

Our exclusive series of interviews with famous chefs who are also parents concludes today with this advice from chef Charlie Palmer.

Celebrated chef Charlie Palmer has combined his creative cooking spirit and flair for business to open 13 notable restaurants across the country, including the highly acclaimed Aureole, a growing collection of food-forward wine shops, and award-winning boutique hotels. A James Beard Foundation honoree and the author of numerous cookbooks, Palmer continues to be one of the world’s most innovative and important chefs.

A father to four boys, Palmer knows a thing or two about dining out with kids. To make sure your children remain engaged, he recommends, “Remember to take something with you to entertain the kids. A fun activity between courses or after you order can really improve the overall experience. When my family dines out, we sometimes take ‘Table Topics’ with us, and then we each go around the table with a trivia card. It takes up the time between courses and everyone is entertained.”

Until you know your kids will enjoy an extended meal, Palmer says, “Don’t take them to a high-end restaurant when the experience will take multiple hours if your child doesn’t like sitting still for that long. You would be better off taking them to a restaurant that is loud, active, and a bit quicker.” Also, he adds, “If you know your child has certain food allergies, call ahead to the restaurant and see how flexible they can be with the menu to determine if it’s going to be a good situation for you.”

True to form, this chef serves food his offspring enjoy! He admits, “My kids love all of the dishes. They aren’t allowed to order anything ‘special’ anymore, they have to order off the menu and experience the food the way the chefs intended!”

Dining Out on New Year’s: Saving the Best Meal for the Last Day of the Decade

New Year 2010What are you doing on New Year’s Eve? If you’re an OpenTable user, you’re probably dining out. According to a recent survey, more than 60% of respondents are dining out on the last day of the decade. The most popular reservation times are between 7PM and 9PM (so book your tables today!), and the most popular dishes celebrants will dine on are steak and lobster (proving that surf and turf never really gets old). Most people are spending as much or more than they did last year, and, as the economy slowly bounces back, an impressive 11% of survey takers indicated they were going to spend more than $150 per person on their last meal of the decade.

If you’re looking to make December 31, 2009, a night to really remember, consider one of these 10 spectacular New Year’s Eve celebrations around the nation.

1. Charlie Trotter’s: Guests at Chef Trotter’s legendary Lincoln Park restaurant will start their evening with a Champagne and canapé reception. A luxurious multi-course tasting menu featuring the finest ingredients will be followed by a midnight toast. At $350 per person, this is a must for Chicago’s foodies.

2. Sixteen: Sixteen restaurant at Chicago’s Trump International Hotel & Tower will feature a “Fire and Ice” themed evening for $310. Guests will be greeted by cylindrical fire centerpieces and hostesses decked out in red designer dresses. An extravagant eight-course tasting menu prepared by Chef Frank Brunacci with wine pairings is bested only by the prime view of the midnight fireworks off of Chicago’s Navy Pier.

3. The Bazaar by José Andrés: Trip the light fantastic and ring in the New Year, Beverly Hills-style, with friends for a decadent night of revelry at America’s best restaurant — and stay the night. For just $689 per couple, you’ll get dinner for two at the Bazaar by José Andrés, tickets for two to the SLS New Year’s Eve Gala, and room accommodations at a special New Year’s Eve rate.

4. Carbon Beach Club at the Malibu Beach Inn: Nothing beats dining on the beach under the stars, and that is exactly what you can do at the Carbon Beach Club. Treat yourself to a six-course prix-fixe menu including a complimentary glass of Champagne and party favors as you greet the new year to the sounds of the California surf for just $175 per person.

5. Aureole: Everything old is new again at Manhattan’s Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s relocated and renovated restaurant. For $500 per person, diners will feast on a five-course chef tasting menu with wine pairings, DJ entertainment, and a Champagne toast, just steps from Times Square.

6. Two Times Square: If you want an unforgettable evening, Two Times Square in New York City is the place to spend it. Guests can relish an open bar, a five-course meal with wine pairings, music, and more – not to mention the very best view of the ball dropping in Times Square, all for just $2,500 per person.

7. Meritage at the Claremont: The new Meritage at the Claremont in Berkeley is celebrating its first New Year’s in grand culinary style! Executive Chef Josh Thomsen has prepared a special five-course dinner, accompanied by live music and including a Champagne toast, party favors and parking. This all-inclusive evening is $390 per couple.

8. MICHAEL MINA: Located on San Francisco’s storied Union Square in the Westin St. Francis Hotel, Michael Mina’s signature restaurant is serving a magnificent five-course tasting menu and wine pairing for $350 per person. Celebrants will enjoy live jazz and dancing later in the evening.

9. Michel Richard Citronelle: Georgetown gastronomes need look no further than their own backyard for fine dining on New Year’s Eve. Michel Richard is presenting a gourmand six-course meal and wine pairing. Beginning with hors d’oeuvres in the lounge, the evening winds down with a vintage Champagne toast at midnight. Noisemakers, hats and dancing round out the festivities, which cost $450 per person. Dressing up is a must.

10. Plume at the Jefferson Hotel: Party like a President at Plume at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C. Located in a Beaux Arts jewel of a hotel that is inspired by Monticello, Plume is serving a six-course tasting menu created by Damon Gordon. You’ll also enjoy musical entertainment, party favors, and a Champagne toast for $225 per person.

If none of these are right for (or near) you, check out OpenTable’s New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World page to find a restaurant at which to ring in 2010.

New Year’s Eve in New York City: Decadence at the End of the Decade

NYE-in-NYCDecember 31, 2009 isn’t just the last day of the year, it’s the last day of the decade — so, you “aught” to celebrate in style! If you find yourself flush with a bit of extra cash after the gift-giving holidays have passed, you can ring in the new year (and decade) in a number of magnificent ways.

Here are 10 Manhattan restaurants that are welcoming 2010 with a bit of panache:

21 Club: If you miss old New York, you don’t have to, thanks to 21 Club. For $225 per person, you can enjoy a four-course dinner and dancing in this legendary location.

Ajna: For “Top Chef” fans, there’s no better place to raise a glass (and a fork and a knife!) than at Ajna, where “Top Chef” winner Hung Huynh will be preparing a special five-course meal for $275 per person.

Asiate: $295 gets you sweeping views of the city on this special night – along with a sumptuous six-course dinner and dancing at this gem located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Aureole: Everything old is new again at Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s relocated and renovated restaurant. For $500 per person, diners will feast on a five-course chef tasting menu with wine pairings, DJ entertainment, and a Champagne toast, just steps from Times Square.

Daniel: Daniel Boulud’s signature restaurant is serving a gala dining menu in five courses for $595. In addition to fabulous food, there will be live music, a DJ, and dancing at this Michelin favorite.

Eleven Madison Park: Fresh off rave reviews and earning its first Michelin star, this crown jewel  in restaurateur Danny Meyer’s empire will be serving a seven-course holiday tasting menu. Live music and views of Madison Square Park promise to make the night festive and romantic.

The Oak Room: This recently refurbished New York landmark in the famed Plaza Hotel will serve an elegant five-course tasting menu (with Champagne) for $295 per person. A burlesque themed party begins in the adjoining Oak Bar at 11PM.

Russian Tea Room
: You’ll feel transported by the atmosphere at this fabled midtown favorite – not to mention pampered. The second seating includes a 5-course dinner, dancing, and an open bar for $500 per person. Cheers!

SHO by Shaun Hergatt: Chef Shaun Hergatt is preparing a lavish 5-course menu in this Financial District hotspot. A live band and a Champagne toast are included in the $250 per person pricetag.

Two Times Square: If you want an unforgettable evening, Two Times Square is the place to spend it. Guests can relish an open bar, a five-course meal with wine pairings, music, and more – not to mention the very best view of the ball dropping in Times Square, all for just $2,500 per person.

You can find reservations at hundreds more New York area restaurants on New Year’s Eve here. If you’re going to be on the road, visit our international New Year’s Eve page to find deals and offers wherever you’re celebrating.