Maryland-born chef Bryan Voltaggio is modeling sustainable farming and cooking for his family
See what Mastercard® ambassador, restaurateur, and cookbook author has been growing on his small farm during the pandemic. Learn what he grows for his family (including tomatoes, cantaloupe, and herbs), discover how he approaches gardening and farming, and get tips on harvesting and sustainability to apply to your own projects.
Chef Bryan Voltaggio had already worked as an executive chef by the time he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America at just 20 years old. He's since helmed legendary Chef Charlie Palmer's D.C. steakhouse. Bryan is the first contestant to make it to the finals on Top Chef, Top Chef: Masters and Top Chef: All-Stars. In 2008, he returned to his hometown of Frederick, Maryland, to open VOLT.
During his extended stay at home due to the pandemic, Bryan Voltaggio has found time to cultivate a small farm to grow vegetables, herbs, and more. With all the home-grown produce, Bryan enjoys creating dishes in the comfort of his own kitchen for his wife and three children.
We caught up with chef and got his insight on what inspired him to start farming, how he approaches sustainability, and how easy it is to whip up a farm-to-table meal with produce from his garden. Check out this video below to see Bryan’s exclusive tips and tricks just for Mastercard cardholders.
Why is sustainability important to you?
As a father and a professional Chef, sustainability in our food sources is very important to me. We need to make a greater shift to bring more localized diversity in farming. Relying on big agriculture with the instability of the climate and the increased demand for fresh sustainable produce, it’s the only answer. We had it right before, we just need to continue to demand more of ourselves to make a difference in sustaining our food security and supporting our local farming community. That’s why I’m excited to partner with Mastercard and support their Priceless® Planet Coalition and commitment to plant 100 million trees in five years and make a difference for future generations.
How do you feel your farm has been able to make an impact?
My farm is a hobby that has turned into something that can potentially make an impact. I will soon be able to not only supply my family and friends with fresh local produce, but also to share it with my clients at my restaurant. I will then be cooking with ingredients that did not have to travel far from farms in other parts of the country, creating less of an environmental impact. I don't anticipate this happening overnight, but it's something I intend to grow.
What is your biggest farming accomplishment? Your favorite crop?
I have had more failures than accomplishments. However, I have gotten pretty good at growing lettuce, and my soil seems to be balanced enough to yield a good crop. Every year I learn more about my farm and try to not repeat mistakes. It is still a work in progress, which is what I enjoy about it.
Tomatoes are my favorite crop so far. I grow heirloom varieties as well as the famed San Marzano tomatoes, which we use for making tomato sauce, on pizzas, and for canning.
How did you get into farming?
I am by no means a farmer—more of a large hobby gardener that took it too far! I stumbled upon a farmer on YouTube from upstate New York who has the most beautiful and organized farm I have ever seen. When I would come home from a long day in the kitchen, I would find myself watching the videos from his farm for hours. I was hooked on the similarities of running a kitchen: the way he systematically runs every facet of the farm and how organized the fields are inspired me to give it a shot.
What is your favorite thing to make with the fresh produce from your garden?
We love growing tomatoes, melons, and herbs. A simple salad of burrata, basil, heirloom tomatoes, and some cantaloupe is a great summer treat. I just drizzle some good olive oil and sea salt and pair with an effervescent wine from Olde Westminster in Maryland.
Do you have any advice for our cardholders at home who want to get into gardening? What if they have limited space to start this hobby?
I certainly think anyone has the space to grow something. Start small is the best approach, having potted herbs certainly helps add great flavor to dishes cooked at home but also offers great decor and landscaping. If you have space to plant a garden then be sure to start with space in which you can control the weeds and maintain the harvest. There are plenty of community gardens where for the first time gardener there is plenty of opportunities to get a plot and meet others who may lend advice. Even if you don’t directly speak with someone, you can certainly learn from the other plots around you. That’s how my wife and I got started.
In addition, I wanted to get started growing food for not only my family, but also my restaurants. What I have learned along the way is a deep respect for farming. It’s hard work but has great purpose. It made me realize that every time an ingredient comes through my door under the care of a market farmer, that we will treat it with a greater respect and appreciation for all that goes into it.
What is Priceless to you and why?
Priceless moments to me are seeing my children play outside—with so much going on in the world, it's just those simple moments. We camp together, too, and it's when I see the electronics left at home and the imaginations go to work—that is for sure a priceless moment.
The Priceless Planet Coalition unites the effect of merchants, banks, cities, and consumers to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment through the restoration of 100 million trees over five years together with forestry expert Conservation International and World Resources Institute.