Bryan Voltaggio

"Top Chef" alumnus Bryan Voltaggio opened his first Baltimore restaurant, Aggio, in 2013. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun photo / October 23, 2012)

For Bryan Voltaggio, this holiday season is about beginnings.

His latest restaurant venture — and the first outside Frederick — is slated to open. It will be his family's first Christmas in their new Urbana home. And with a son age 5 and a daughter who's not quite 2, that tender age when he's pretty sure Christmas memories start to truly cement, the chef and father is determined to do it right.

No surprise, he'll be making most of it happen in the kitchen — Santa's workshop with cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and peppermint.

"Roasted meats and braises, caramelized vegetables, root vegetable puree, the aromas of fall going into winter," he says. "I find the holidays such a comforting season."

Voltaggio is a man who embraces not only family but ritual and gesture. The annual ornaments he and his wife add to the tree for each child. They way he and his cousins draw names for a homemade gift exchange. How Christmas Eve always ends with Jennifer and him planting presents under the tree, and the following morning always begins with the couple tiptoeing downstairs before their son wakes so they can be there — cameras poised — capturing his surprise.

"My mother still sends me new Christmas pajamas every year, and I'm 36 years old," he says, laughing.

Taking a cue from the movie "A Christmas Story," Voltaggio tries to hide one extra gift for his son behind the tree. Like the holiday classic, it's the present his boy gets when he thinks he's already gotten everything, often the thing his wife thought they'd agreed not to get.

The favorite gift Voltaggio ever got? He shrugs that off. He says the best thing he ever gave was last year, when he walked into a Frederick Walmart and became one of the store's layaway angels, asking to see the biggest unpaid layaway ticket, putting it on his card and walking out of the store.

"For me," he says, "it was the best feeling I ever had at Christmas."

This year the Voltaggio family expects more than 40 people for Christmas Eve dinner, everyone clinking glasses in the family room as the fireplace crackles, then sitting down together at a series of pushed-together tables, sharing and passing platters.

Voltaggio, of course, will cook. He's not certain what exactly, just that he wants it to meet everyone's "Top Chef"-ian expectations with but-once-a-year, remarkable dishes that also have to be warm and approachable.

There will be his holiday non-negotiables — roasted meats, potatoes of some sort, autumnal root vegetables. There's a good chance he'll reinterpret a holiday dish he and his brother grew up on — their mother's sausage balls, little bites of savory meat and cheddar, crisped with something he guesses was Bisquick. And he wants to somehow highlight his Italian heritage, perhaps with a pasta or gnocchi.

"I wish I could talk to you next year when we'll have a better idea of 'The Voltaggio Family Christmas', " he says. "This year we're going to create all of this."

Bryan Voltaggio's Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts


10 small radishes, about 1-2 inches in diameter, washed

½ teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons butter