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'Top Chef: DC' Winner Kevin Sbraga: 'No One Knew I'd Won'

by Audrey Fine, posted Sep 17th 2010 3:00PM
Top Chef: DC finaleAfter 14 episodes and a Singaporian show down of epic proportions, there's a new Top Chef out there in culinary land -- 31-year-old Kevin Sbraga of New Jersey.

And, while the other two men did their best to capture the title (and the prizes), in the end, as Tom Colicchio bemoaned, only one could be crowned the winner.

"This is a life changer," Sbraga said after Padma Lakshmi announced that he was the winner of 'Top Chef: DC.' "My career's been good, but this could make it great. Could make it incredible."

Um, yeah, $125,000 would make nice seed money for his own restaurant, something the New Jersey native, whose one-year tenure as the Executive Chef at Rat's Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture, in Hamilton, NJ ends on Sept. 26, has long dreamed off.

Not that he hadn't also dreamed of dashing the hopes of the other two finalists, Ed Cotton and Angelo Sosa and walking away with the title. "I've been dreaming, thinking, living and dying for this meal for the last couple of months," Sbraga said moments before his four-course "meal of a lifetime" was served to the judges.

And a "meal of a lifetime" it was. Sbraga and his guest sous chef for the challenge, last year's winner Michael Voltaggio, served up a smorgasbord of edible delights ranging from Pan-Seared Rouget to Roasted Duck with Dumplings that the judges couldn't get enough of. One local chef even heralded Sbraga's "Singapore Sling 2010" fruit cup as "our new national dessert."

How does it feel to win? What does he have to say to those who chalk up the win to Voltaggio's involvement? And, did he really name his baby after Angelo?

Sbarga answered these, and sundry other questions during a phone call with reporters. Here's what he had to say:

You seemed really surprised to hear your name called. Has the surprise worn off yet or does it still seem surreal?

I've had quite a bit of time to think about it by now but then, yeah, it was surreal. It was late at night, it was hard to hear Padma and my dream came true at that moment! But, now I know it's real and I'm enjoining every moment.

Did the people in your life know that you'd won and, where did you watch the final episode?

No one knew beforehand - there were a couple of people, like my wife, who had a good idea - but no one knew. And, we watched it at a friend's restaurant with about 30 people and it was really cool.

Kevin Sbraga - Top Chef: DCIt was atypical for 'Top Chef' that the proteins for the final Elimination Challenge were provided for you. Were you pleased or upset with that turn of events?

My personal opinion was that I loved it because now you're comparing apples to apples - a duck dish to a duck dish, a rouget against a rouget. I thought it was great that they did that and I hope that it's something they continue to do.

In his blog on BravoTV.com, Tom Colicchio says, "Now someone is sure to gripe that perhaps working with Michael Voltaggio gave Kevin an advantage." What would you say people who subscribe to that theory?

I don't care what they say, people are going to say whatever they want. The real advantage for me cooking with Mike is that I have worked with him before. But, I've also worked with Hung (Huynh) before so it would have been the same. All three of them have won their seasons - and respectable seasons at that, so working with any of them would offer the same advantage.

Iggy Chan paid your "Singapore Sling 2010" a huge compliment by saying that you'd "just created our national dessert." What was the inspiration for it and do you know whether it's found its way onto any menus?

It was inspired by a dessert my wife, who is a pastry chef, makes. And, I make it at the restaurant I work at. Once I got to Singapore, it came out better though, the fresh fruit made it better.

As for whether it's on any menus, I'm not sure, but the show just aired two days ago so I'm sure that a lot of requests are going to come in.

At one point in the kitchen during the final challenge, someone asked for "white trash tongs" and Ed took mock offense. What are they?

[Cracks up] They're large tongs that everyone cooks with at home. If you notice, we actually use medical instruments now, a lot of chefs in the kitchen are using them, they're small and those are good tools.

Your tenure at Rat's Restaurant is up in a few days. What's next?

I want to open my own restaurant. Most likely in Philadelphia. It will be very small, just 20-40 seats, and very high end with a menu that changes often if not every day.

You and your wife, Jesmary, recently welcomed a baby boy named Kevin Angelo. Was that a nod to Sosa?

[Laughs. ] No, I'd never name my son after a man on TV!. My wife really wanted him to have my name and we both really like the name Angelo but it has nothing to do with Sosa although he's a great guy.

Ah, but he once called you the "bad boy" of the show. Is there any truth to that?

I don't think so. I think a couple of times my temper flared up, but that's it. Angelo was the bad boy of the show. It's just the way that he moves. He was the one that everyone was hating, so he was the bad boy. I don't think I was.

We only see a few minutes of it when it airs, but how long does a Judges' Table take in real life?

For a normal Judges' Table you stand there for at least an hour. Altogether you may be standing in front of the judges for 2-2.5 hours.

Who's the "scariest" of the judges?

Tom because he's very cut throat, he's very dry, and there's no in between with him. But, I was blown away with Eric Ripert's detail. The way he picks apart food and knows the details, I was really blown away by him. Plus, he is one of the most humble people at that level that I have ever met. Here you have one of the best chefs in the world and he asks you how you did something. Amazing.

Any advice for future cheftestants?

Be true to yourself and cook with your heart. Can't over analyze. Can't worry about what the judges are looking for and don't hold back! I held back too many times and almost went home for it.

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Kevin is awful. He couldn't cut it as a cook at a Sizler. Awful

September 26 2010 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think people have a right to be upset about this. I don't understand why this subject keeps coming around, TV Squad doesn't seem to learn. I remember several years ago when TVSquad posted that a female had won top chef in the post title. They dont seem to have learned at all since then. I only got to watch this last night. I had avoided reading the RSS feed from last Wednesday till Saturday in case I accidentally caught the winner. However I have been reading posts since Saturday and would have been very annoyed to read this if I hadnt caught up last night.

How much effort would it have taken to just have made the title 'Top Chef: DC' Winner: 'No One Knew I'd Won'.

People have busy life's giving at least a weeks grace in the titles would have been nice.

September 21 2010 at 10:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


September 17 2010 at 11:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Normally, I get bored and annoyed with "you spoiled it" spoiler alert people, but I have to agree with them this time.You really ruined it for them.
Because the site encourages subscribing to the feeds ,those who haven't seen it yet , had absolutely no choice but to know who won. You let the cat out of the bag with the title and first paragraph.
At least keep it to the second paragraph next time. You know you COULD have just said "Top Chef Winner, incredulous over win" or something. People who hadn't seen it would immediately skip past it.

September 17 2010 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brett Alan

Seriously. Fortunately I have seen this particular show, but I've had the same problem with other shows. It makes me consider not coming to the site anymore. Which would be a shame.

September 17 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ok, can you please not spoil the winner right in the title? It shows up on my RSS feed, I didn't even have to click anything!

September 17 2010 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Jay's comment

Yeah, good job!

September 17 2010 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

yep, thanks, some of us have kids and don't get to watch shows every night of the week, especially shows where there's a winner. Undoubtedly, there is a Statute on this info, but surely it could be the start of the next week.

September 17 2010 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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