2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Community Chef Kevin Sbraga of Sbraga
440 S Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Kevin Sbraga was pretty much born in his father’s bakery about 20 miles outside of Philly, and working there as a teen cemented young Sbraga’s call to the kitchen. To pick up the skills he needed, Sbraga attended Johnson & Wales University in Miami, while working as chef de partie at The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida. After graduation, he held posts in Atlanta working under Chefs Guenter Seeger and Joël Antunes and at Buckhead Life Restaurant Group.
Moving back to his Philadelphia roots, Sbraga worked at Le Mas Perrier, Washington Square, and The Ritz Carlton Philadelphia before signing on to edit recipes for Rising Star Chef Jose Garces’s cookbook, Latin Evolution. Sbraga impressed Garces and ultimately earned a full-time role as culinary director of Garces Restaurant Group. With the Iron Chef’s support, Sbraga competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA culinary competition in fall 2008. He impressed the judges and earned the award for “Best Meat Presentation.” Though he didn’t win, the competition prepared him for his next big break.
While working as executive chef at Stephen Starr’s Rat’s Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, Sbraga competed in season seven of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” This time, Sbraga walked away with the title and the funding he needed to open his own restaurant. After spending a year traveling, he and wife Jesmary opened the doors to namesake Sbraga in 2011. Even while pushing himself in the kitchen, Sbraga finds time to nourish the city that’s always supported him by hosting charity dinners, chairing fundraisers, and acting as the ultimate advocate for feeding Philadelphia.
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Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Community Chef Kevin Sbraga
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?KS: 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.