Home on the Range

‘Top Chef’ finalist Bryan Voltaggio brings star power and ambitious plans for a new restaurant to Friendship Heights



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Voltaggio holds a silver fox rabbit at Whitmore Farm, which provides some of the meat for his restaurants. Photo by Erick GibsonThe chef has been long invested in using locally sourced, seasonal products; it’s an ethos that will carry over to Range. He will be getting a lot of his produce from Frederick’s Big White Barn Produce, which will be specially growing heritage varietals and botanical rarities for all of his ventures; fresh lamb  from Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, Va.; and some of his eggs and meat from Whitmore Farm in Emmitsburg, Md.

Click here to see a behind-the-scenes video of Voltaggio's photo shoot at Whitemore Farm.

One thing you won’t find: a hyper-exclusive tasting menu like the one showcased at Volt’s Table 21. Forget dishes highlighting molecular gastronomy, unconventional ingredients or unexpected flavor combinations such as a mock oyster made with root vegetable salsify. For now, Voltaggio is reserving such haute cuisine for his flagship.

But as is the case at Voltaggio’s other establishments, there will be a subtle emphasis on healthier eating. At Lunchbox, diners get a free piece of fresh fruit—oftentimes an explosively crunchy apple from a nearby orchard—while Volt strives to reduce the sugar in its desserts so that the natural ingredients shine.

“Not all of the steaks will come out with half a pound of compound butter on them,” Voltaggio says. “And I’ll be cutting back on the butter in the side dishes a bit to let the vegetables do the talking.”

To give a better sense of his overall idea, Voltaggio leads the way upstairs to the space that will soon be home to Range. On this day, it requires some imagination to envision it. All the demolition is done, so there’s nothing but unadorned drywall and unfinished floors punctuated by massive concrete columns.

“It’s easy to build a restaurant on paper,” he says. “Making it come to fruition is the hard part, but also the most exciting part.”

As he walks through the bare-bones space, Voltaggio offers a guided tour of the restaurant-to-be. “The kitchen will be right here,” he says, sweeping his arm along a back stretch of the room where coils of wiring hang from the ceiling. “I’ve redesigned it three times already.”

In this latest iteration, the kitchen is completely open. “People want to see what’s going on,” he says. “It’s part of the dining experience.”

When the construction is finished, the space will be decorated with warm woods, marble and a panoply of grays with a butternut accent. “It’s going to follow in the style of Volt,” Voltaggio says. “It’s going to be organic and not flashy.”

Striding over to the opposite end of the space, to the wall abutting Military Road, he notes that the venture next door will be a cigar lounge called Civil. Though separately owned, Civil’s menu will be designed and executed by Voltaggio and his team at Range. He’s hoping its proximity will inspire him to enjoy stogies again. “I haven’t had two hours to smoke one in a long time,” he says. “I feel bad lighting one up and putting it out.”

There hasn’t been much chill time ever since Top Chef catapulted Voltaggio into the culinary stratosphere and onto the pop culture landscape. In addition to his restaurants, the hardworking and determined toque has been devoting his energy to an impressive slate of projects. Collaborating with Frederick’s Flying Dog Brewery, he created a signature beer, Backyard Ale. He partnered with Isabella to open Graffiato, which debuted in the summer of 2011. That same season, he and his brother went on a Williams-Sonoma-sponsored road trip around the South, cooking barbecue and learning about regional techniques. Just a few months later, they released their first cookbook, VOLT ink.: Recipes, Stories, Brothers (Weldon Owen).

After stepping away from the keyboard and the test kitchen, he spearheaded the Rogue Sessions at Washington, D.C.’s Rogue 24, where nine high-profile chefs—including José Andrés, The Source’s Scott Drewno and fellow Bravo TV alum Jennifer Carroll—recently took over the kitchen for a week each, while chef-owner R.J. Cooper recovered from open-heart surgery.

Amid all this action, Voltaggio found time to return to TV. First he did an ad with his brother promoting Samsung’s Flex Duo Oven. Then he stepped out on his own with a Maryland Public Television special, Obsessed with Everything Food. He hopes that production turns into a series in which he would travel the country exploring and cooking regional cuisines.

“It’s an exciting time,” he says. “We’re having fun with it and, I hope, making some smart moves.”

And with that, he returns to poring over the plans for Range and thinking aloud about how it’s all going to come together. There’s a lot of work to be done, but he clearly can’t wait to get started.

Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who frequently writes about culture and food.

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