Chef Q&A: Kevin Sbraga

Top Chef talent shares the magic behind his fried chicken, and more!

LEFT: Sbraga’s Chocolate Macaroon dessert with beetroot ice cream, sable breton and raspberries. Photo by Ben Fileccia. RIGHT: Sbraga, photo by Michael Spain Smith.

Recently over a thought-provoking dinner of an eggplant terrine mosaic with piquillo peppers, ultra-fresh gemelli tossed with escargot and smoked ham hocks, and a life-changing fried game hen pumped with vadouvan spice, we became reacquianted with what Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga does best.

Poised on Broad Street with his namesake restaurant, Sbraga, the refined mod-American chef is championing Philadelphia’s food scene. Not only is he repeatedly taking Avenue of the Arts’ diners on intriguing culinary journeys, as executed by challenging seasonal ingredients, but he’s also pumping a healthy dose of Southern charm into University City with his pork-centric Fat Ham. Recently, Sbraga dropped the buzz that he’s channeling his love for all things rotisserie with his newest concept that’ll debut come fall.

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We sat down with the New Jersey native chef to find out why he loves Philly, what’s to come, and the magic behind his fried chicken.

Main Course: You’ve sunk your restaurateur roots into the Philadelphia market, with Sbraga and Fat Ham. What excites you about Philly’s food culture?

Kevin Sbraga: I really like that fact that Philadelphia is ever-changing. The people, culture and food are constantly growing.

You’re making way for a third Philadelphia restaurant come fall 2014, continuing to stick around Broad Street. Why are your partial to this theater district?

I truly believe in the growth of South Broad Street. It is an iconic street in Philadelphia and it needs iconic restaurants. I am hoping to add to that. Over the years, I have witnessed so many neighborhoods, street-by-street change and develop into something great. Just look at East Passyunk, 13th Street or Walnut Street. I hope to be a part of what continues to happen on South Broad Street.

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How do you define your culinary style? What restaurant stint or experience has transformed you as a chef the most?

I am a modern American chef cooking modern American food. I want to provide an experience that challenges me and pleases my guests. My time with chef Arnaud Berthelier at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla. has transformed me the most. However, I am truly a product of my experiences. So my time with Georges Perrier, Stephen Starr and Jose Garces have helped transform me as well.

On your new spring menu at Sbraga, you’ve incorporated a little fried Fat Ham magic into the signature game hen. What inspired this dish, especially with its strong Indian influence?

We really wanted to explore more options for the technique of glazing the chicken. At The Fat Ham, we do it in its most traditional form. At Sbraga, I wanted to be able to make it more personal, more exciting and new. It just so happened to be with vadouvan. I want to continue refining this technique and trying it with new flavors and spices.

Wild card: on your rare night-off, where you grabbing a drink and/or bite?

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Last night I had amazing Sichuan food at Red Dragon. My number No. 1 go-to spot right now is Pizzeria Stella.

Find Kevin Sbraga in the kitchen of Sbraga at 440 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia or at Fat Ham, found at 3131 Walnut St. More information about both restaurants is available at www.sbragadining.com.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!