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In the kitchen there was camaraderie. There was order. And there was the promise of control, the knowledge that if you applied certain principles you could control outcomes.

On the line at Volt, Bryan wordlessly submerges coconut pudding in liquid nitrogen, producing a perfect snowball that nestles into powdered lavender oil. On “Top Chef,” Michael wowed judges with a deconstructed Caesar salad, the dressing for which released itself from small, self-contained spheres that popped on the tongue. They may apply technique differently _ Bryan’s dishes tend to downplay the mechanics while Michael’s sometimes flaunt them (something he says he’s working to change) _ but in the end, what brings comfort is the precision, the absolute certainty, of techniques like sous-vide (low-temperature cooking that ensures perfect results) and the ingredient manipulations of molecular gastronomy.

“At the end of the day, cooking is science,” Michael says. “To get a perfect result you should control the environment.”

But saying that their mastery of technique or ingredients is what makes them similar is too easy, says Jose Andres, chef-restaurateur and disciple of the Spanish avant-garde. Andres has known Bryan since his days at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington. Michael was chef de cuisine at his Los Angeles restaurant Bazaar.

“That they are good cooks is a given,” Andres says. “But they are genuinely good, humble guys. Michael, even after his very quick stardom, I told him `Make sure this doesn’t go to your head,’ that `You’re not famous because you’re super cool, but because television gave you an opportunity. But TV goes away. And the essence of what you are is going to remain.’ And they have that very clear. Other people, TV gets to their head.”

Outwardly, the differences still loom large. While Bryan has opened his restaurant in a century-old mansion in their hometown, Michael has taken on a slick space in Los Angeles for his new restaurant, ink, where he has partnered with entertainment mogul Michael Ovitz. Bryan is married to his high school sweetheart and is trying to buy a house closer to Volt; Michael, who is divorced, has “Gypsy Soul” tattooed across his chest.

The rivalry viewers saw on “Top Chef” was in some ways the tip of the iceberg. They still argue the way they did 30 years ago. “We fight like children,” Michael says, “We get to, like `I hate you! I’ll never talk to you again!’ It’s pathetic.” But only the coldest heart could have witnessed the genuine pain they each felt when Michael won and missed their devotion to each other. Both say that despite the difficulty of that moment, the “Top Chef” experience brought them closer.

“We kind of were forced together and hadn’t been since we were maybe 10 and 12 and sharing a room,” Bryan says, noting that during taping they literally slept next to each other for six weeks. “Now we’re on the phone together almost every day. We have business that’s entwined. And we also learned that we are our best resource for each other. We realized we could be stronger and use each other and be more successful if we were resources rather than rivals to each other.”

Which is fine with their mom.

“They both ultimately accomplished the same thing,” says Mangine, who has printed out and saved every word ever written about her sons. “They just got to it in a different way.”