Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Kevin Sbraga: Both of my parents were bakers. My dad had a business for 44 years. As an infant, I was in the bakery. I started to appreciate it at a very young age. At 12 or 13, I realized I wanted to take it more seriously. I went to Catholic school and was one of the bad kids. I went to vocational high school and took culinary arts there, and that's when things took shape. For me, it opened a lot of doors and gave me structure.
CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
KS: Gain some sort of experience. Start at a lower position, as a dishwasher or busboy. Some people come in and they never had a job, go to culinary school, and spend $25,000. After three months, they don't want to do it.
CH: What’s the chef community in Philadelphia like?
KS: It’s a tight-knit community. In other cities, the chef community wasn't as tight. We give people a call when résumés come through. I’m planning a fishing trip with four or five chefs. If we're busy or slow we text each other to see what's going on. I frequent a lot of other restaurants. Egos are pretty much checked. It’s not a big ego battle.
CH: What goes into creating a new dish?
KS: I'm most influenced by travel—just getting to other states, cities, and countries and tasting food and seeing what it’s really about. I think in Philly, lots of guys do food that's very traditional. They make it the same way. I'm influenced by favors and tastes. That separates us.
CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?
KS: Making a difference in the community and food scene. It's very easy to be creative and really go off the wall. But that doesn't always work. People may be looking for it or not. You don't want to blend in with everyone else.
CH: What does success mean for you?
KS: There are two components, leaving a legacy and financial stability. It took a long time to figure that out. I started thinking about my father. He has legacy in his community and school, but never made the money he should.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don't know. On [“Top Chef”], it was about opening this restaurant. It's the biggest thing that's happened to my career. I don't know if it's another restaurant. People ask me to consult. For now, it’s Sbraga
and enjoying this.