One of Us: Interview with Kevin Sbraga

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

The Top Chef winner is set to open his third restaurant, ’80s-themed Juniper Commons, this month. He talks about his love of Michael Jackson, the secret to Italian gravy, and the Philly food trend that must end.

My name is … Kevin David Sbraga. My last name is Italian, and something tells me that it means “large around the waist.”

I was born in … Mount Holly.

The best thing about growing up in New Jersey … was tomatoes in the summer.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would probably be … a truck driver.

I drive a … Mercedes ML350.

One food I cannot stand … is takeout Chinese.

Yelp is … a pain in the ass.

My secret junk-food obsession is … ice cream. Doesn’t matter what flavor. I like soft-serve, and I love putting all kinds of toppings on it. I can crush a frozen yogurt place. There’s one next to Pizzeria Vetri, and I take my kids in and we’ll murder it.

One movie I can watch again and again is … Ratatouille.

This year for Christmas, please buy me … an iPhone 6. But not the Plus. That screen is too big.

My secret ingredient in Italian gravy is … pepperoni. Two chunks in every pot. I learned how to cook from my grandmother, and I used to make meatballs with her when I was two years old.

When I was 12 … I realized I wanted to do this for a living. I did a project with a guy named Billy for English class. We came up with a restaurant called BAK Grill.

One thing I don’t like about Philadelphia … is the zombies that walk the street during the day. The drug addicts, people that are off their rocker.

If you’re coming to my house for dinner, don’t bring … beer. I’m not a beer guy. I’d rather have a six-pack of wine coolers.

My most prized material possession is … my shoe collection. I probably have 30 pairs. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Bruno Magli. There’s a pair of $750 brown suede Louis Vuitton shoes that I really love.

One mistake most home chefs make is … not seasoning their food properly. People are afraid to use salt.

I would love to open … a bakery. High Street is doing an amazing job, and there is a lot of room for that elsewhere. The days of going to the bakery to get bread are kind of gone, and we need to get back to that.

The farthest I have been from Philadelphia … was Singapore, for the finale of Top Chef. A beautiful city, so clean and friendly, amazing shopping, great food. But so damn hot and humid. It was out of control.

The three best restaurants in Philly (other than my own) are … Le Virtù, Fork and Laurel.

The first concert I ever went to … was Michael Jackson at JFK Stadium in 1984. I loved Michael Jackson. And Hall & Oates. “Maneater” was probably my favorite song growing up.

One restaurant trend that needs to end … is the burger craze. Burgers are great and all, but we don’t need them everywhere.

My five-year plan … doesn’t exist. I don’t have a plan. I’ve been shooting from the hip since I opened my first restaurant.

Originally published in the December, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine