I wasn't paying particular attention to Kevin Sbraga for most of Season 7 of Top Chef. Frankly, nobody was. Early oddsmakers put his chances of beating the competition in the Emmy-winning reality cooking show at 65 to 1. Several weeks later, in the exhilarating two-part finale that took the show from Washington, DC, to Singapore, I still didn't think he would defeat the three other finalists, especially when it turned out that he'd never before been to Asia or even cooked with a wok. Yet at the end, Sbraga was named champion, with one of the better reactions in Top Chef history: Told he was the winner, he replied, "I am?" The dish that helped the New Jersey native win was one that's been the downfall of so many Top Chef competitors: dessert. The judges loved Sbraga's Singapore Sling 2010: coconut panna cotta topped, appropriately, with a frozen version of the cocktail.
It turns out that Sbraga is something of a dessert whiz. When Food & Wine asked him for his favorite Christmas-cookie recipes for our December holiday issuea curveball challenge, we thoughthe gave us some of the best ones we'd ever tasted. In our extensive experience, holiday cookies that look festive and fun don't always taste as great as they look. But Sbraga's were both lovely and delicious.
Top Chef Season 7
In fact, Sbraga has been surrounded by cookies almost literally since he was born, in Mt. Holly in 1979. His father, Harvey Beachem, was a baker for more than 40 years. As a baby, Sbraga often played in a cradle set up in a corner of the family-owned Harvey's Bakery, where his mother, Maria, also worked. When he got a little older Sbraga had a job there, too, wrapping platters of cookies in fancy paper.