Thursday, September 15, 2011

Birthday Bliss and a Giveaway!

This past weekend, I celebrated my 30th birthday with friends and family.  The Sous Chef put together a two-day birthday extravaganza that included wine tasting, dinner, and brunch at VOLT.  I'll post pictures as soon as I get them from my dad (he was the unofficial photographer that day - by the way, if you're looking for an event/portrait photographer in the DC/MD/VA area, check him out!).

The purpose of this post is to tell you about the glory and pleasure that is VOLT.  Located in historic Downtown Frederick, Maryland, VOLT isn't just food - it's an experience.  The chef/owner, Bryan Voltaggio, is committed to serving up food that is as organic, sustainable, local, and seasonal as possible.  If you look out the back window, you'll see a little garden, complete with bamboo trellises.  Voltaggio has built up a great working relationship with many local farmers and businesses.  The restaurant gets its tea from a tea shop within walking distance.  They've even got their own custom-blend coffee, which they roast in-house (of course).

When you taste his food, you can taste the pure respect Voltaggio has for it.  Every ingredient is allowed to shine in its natural way.  He doesn't blow flavors out of proportion or augment them with unnecessary spice or seasoning - he simply lets them speak for themselves.

I believe that my brunch at VOLT may have been the best meal of my life.  The best part: we were seated in the kitchen, so we could see them preparing our dishes.  I was absolutely fascinated as I watched a chef bring out an enormous tray of carefully sliced heirloom tomatoes and painstakingly arrange them on our plates.  I watched Bryan Voltaggio himself spend at least an hour and a half inspecting and preparing blackberries that would be served with our dessert course.  Contrary to how most of us expect a kitchen to sound, there was no yelling - there was barely any talking.  It ran like a well-oiled, silent machine.  One chef would prepare a mixture in a large industrial KitchenAid, then adeptly remove it and gracefully slide over to another counter, where a different chef was waiting to take over the process and chauffeur the ingredients to their next tasty destination.

It was amazing.  And it was over too soon.  Five courses later, we were heading out the door.  As I lifted my purse to my shoulder, still dazed from the tastes I had experienced, I looked up and saw him.  Bryan Voltaggio.  In my direct path.  Chumming it up with the head waiter and my father.

I squeaked.

Yes, I squeaked.  Like a little school girl.  I watched this guy on Top Chef.  I absolutely admire his approach to cooking and sustainability.  In short, he is one of my heroes.  And he was standing directly in front of me.

If he heard my squeak, he was gracious enough to pretend he didn't.  Next thing I know, my dad lifts his camera and says to Hero-Chef, "Would you mind taking a picture with my daughter over there?  It's her birthday."  Then he came over to me and the next thing I know, this happened:

I like to call that look in my eyes the "I-can't-believe-this-is-really-happening" look...

Right before my dad clicked this picture, I only had enough time and wherewithal to babble out, "You're an amazing chef, and I love your approach to cooking.  It's...just...perfect."  Not exactly poetry, but I hope it got the point across.

Anyway, on to the real reason you're probably reading this post - the giveaway.  I've thought for a long time about what I'd like to give away as my first blog contest.  The decision was made in a very (pardon the pun) organic way.  While visiting one of the Maryland vineyards on my birthday wine tasting tour, my mother bought me a copy of Dishing Up Maryland, by Lucie L. Snodgrass.  It's not only a collection of 150 recipes from all over Maryland, it's also got interviews and features about some of Maryland's awesome farms, restaurants, and inns, including - didn't you see this coming? - a two-page spread about Bryan Voltaggio and VOLT.  The book is organized by season (awesome) and includes recipes like:

Sweet and Savory Beet Soup with Orange Juice and Yogurt

Wild Mushroom Tartlettes with Goat Cheese and Bacon

Ricotta Hotcakes with Strawberry Compote

Tarragon Chicken Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts

Smith Island Cake (the official state cake of Maryland)

This book is brimming with wonderful recipes and interesting back stories about where our food comes from.  It embraces local living and highlights all of the wonderful delicacies that Maryland has to offer year-round.  I'm so excited about it that I'm giving away a copy to one of my readers!  (And I don't have a huge amount of readers, so you've got pretty good odds at this point!)

Here's how it will work:

  • The contest will run from today until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, September 23rd, 2011
  • The winner will receive one copy of the book Dishing Up Maryland via
  • You have three ways to enter:
  • The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Monday, September 26, 2011
  • The winner must contact me at within 72 hours of the "and the winner is..." post going live or he/she forfeits the prize and another winner will be selected (same guidelines apply)
Good luck and, as always, Eat well!


  1. It sounds like you had an amazing time for your birthday! Love the look on your face.

    I'm originally from Wurzburg, Germany in Bavaria (on my mother's side). Here's a link to one of my favorite meals in the world: Rouladen.

    Ruthe S.

  2. Well...Happy Birthday! I'm SO happy for you and your meal sounds AMAZING! I'm from the south and we love our's a link:

  3. I already like you on facebook (who doesn't like you?)

  4. I'm also a twitter follower! Pretty much I'm a stalker!

  5. Happy Birthday, girl! My birthday is tomorrow! And I am SO SO jealous that you got to meet Brian! Too bad Mike wasn't there too! lol I currently live in the south, but I've lived all over, so for me, my roots are in Italian cooking since that is always what reminds me of home and my family.

  6. Happy belated Birthday! Looks like a great book :). I live in New England. I would say that clam chowder reminds me of home. Here's a recipe from a classic New England magazine

  7. OK, I'll enter! Happy Birthday! I'm originally from Maryland too, so, that's pretty boring. I now live in Idaho, and one really awesome regional thing that I never got to eat until I moved out here is wild Morel mushrooms. Here's a link to my favorite morel recipe:

    Alex served this as a side dish, but we've also made it in larger portions to serve over pasta. Delish! Visit us in May/June for morel hunting and eating!