Kevin Sbraga, the winner of the seventh season of Bravo TV’s Top, opened his first restaurant, Sbraga, with his wife and pastry chef Jesmary Sbraga, last October in Philadelphia.
The restaurant serves a four-course, fixed-price dinner for $49.
A native of nearby Willingboro, N.J., Sbraga studied at the Johnson & Wales campuses in Providence, R.I., and North Miami, Fla., before working at such properties as The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.; the restaurants Joël and Seeger’s in Atlanta; Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in Atlanta; and Starr Restaurant Organization and the Garces Group in Philadelphia.
In 2008, he was a semifinalist in the Bocuse d’Or USA culinary competition.
He recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his restaurant and how to get on Top Chef.
Tell me about Sbraga.
It’s a 60-seat, modern American restaurant that bridges the gap between fine dining and casual.
It’s more relaxed than a fine-dining restaurant. I don’t think fine dining’s dead, but I think it’s changing and evolving. People don’t want to sit for three hours; they don’t want to spend $300 per person on a meal; they don’t want stuffy service. I don’t want to put on a suit for a meal. If I can put on jeans and a T-shirt I’m happy.
What dishes are popular at your restaurant?
They love my foie gras soup. We take garlic, ginger, shallots, lemongrass and Thai chiles, blend that into a paste, fry it in oil, deglaze it with brandy, then we deglaze with honey and let that caramelize. We addstock, bring it to a simmer, and add a touch of cream. Then we finish it with a bunch of foie gras, and then we blend that up and serve it with pears and a rose petal relish.
It started as an accident. I had guests coming in and had to do something special for them, and that’s what I did. At first I just garnished it with pears, but then I added the rose petals.
We also use local bluefish and take the approach of miso black cod, but we use an apple cider glaze. The cider controls the oiliness of the fish. We serve that with adzuki beans and bok choy kimchi.
Probably our biggest dish is the meat loaf. We take beef, veal and pork. Me make a mousse out of the veal and use that as a binding agent instead of breadcrumbs. There’s diced foie gras in there to keep the moisture. That’s cooked sous vide, and then we slice it down and sear it.
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How many foie gras dishes do you serve?
Right now there are three, including a foie gras terrine appetizer. I wanted to take the soup off for the summer, but I got a lot of backlash.
What are you planning next?
My chef’s counter opens on Aug. 6, serving six to eight courses for $75. We’re going to start with a Top Chef menu. People are constantly asking for dishes from the finale. This is a way to give it to them for a couple of days and then move on to do what I want to do.
Do a lot of Top Chef fans come to the restaurant?
Yeah. I thought it would die after two months or three months, but they still come and want pictures. They get happy when they see me.
Are you usually there?
Whenever I’m not traveling I’m there. This summer I’ve been traveling more than normal, but from October to April I was there every single day. Since April, one week out of every month I’m gone, doing events and benefits. Come August I’ll be there every day again.
If our readers want to get on Top Chef, how should they go about it?
Bravo has a link on their website and so does their production company, Magical Elves. Fill out an application and send in a video.
How did you make your video?
What’s interesting is I missed the deadline. But I was referred by someone else who had won, and [Magical Elves] said, “If you get it in in the next three days, we’ll take it.” One of my cooks took the video. It was of me cooking, me talking in the walk-in and me waking up my daughter. My wife did that part.
Which previous winner referred you?
Michael Voltaggio. We worked together in the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, [Fla.], from 2000 to 2003.
What culinary trends do you see in Philadelphia?
I don’t think Philadelphians follow trends. They just want deliciousness, and with trends, people focus on the trend first and then whether it tastes good.
But I love to come to New York, eat, hang out and get inspired by it.
Where are you eating while you’re here?
[Chef Alex Stupak’s restaurant] Empellon.