Shoot to the rear of Stevcic's year-old Northern Liberties cafe and another interior feature might command your eye: a single Technics turntable, resting in a vintage cabinet below a tidy shelf of LPs. A thumb-through will reveal a genreless slew of tunes - bossa nova, mariachi, Led Zeppelin, A Tribe Called Quest. Customers are urged to play their favorites.
In his white kitchen coat, the mustachioed Stevcic looks, talks and works like a chef, but this corner of Chismosa nods to his not-so-distant past. As DJ Jugo, the dance-floor diplomat has crossed continents, from his formative crate-digging days across the pond to a long-term stay south of the border. Philadelphia is Stevcic's home, but the stamps on his passport inform his everyday life.
"My mom's Argentine, my dad's Yugoslav Serbian and I was born in Mexico - figure that one out," he said.
A real U.N. background
It's easy to reference the United Nations when describing someone with an unexpected blend of heritages, but it's quite necessary in Stevcic's case. His parents met in Geneva. Stevcic's paternal grandfather, Janez Stanovnik, is the former president of Slovenia; he also headed the UN's Economic Commission for Europe, which brought him to Switzerland.
Stevcic's South American mom ended up there via her father, an RCA sales rep who later immigrated to the U.S. to attend MIT.
Stevcic, 39, was born in Mexico City and lived there until he was 11, when his dad, an architect, relocated the family to Medford, N.J. The late Jugo Sr. watches over his boy via a framed photo near Chismosa's cash register. He's the one who first got Stevcic into music. "I started with a Fisher-Price [turntable] and moved on up," said Stevcic, who began making mixtapes when he was 9.
By high school, Stevcic was riding the PATCO Speedline into Philly to buy records on South Street and sneak into King Britt's DJ nights at Silk City. When it came time for college, Stevcic chose Gettysburg College, where he hosted his own studio radio show and spun at frat parties.
After graduating in 1996, Stevcic shot over to the U.K. on a work visa, where he worked in a record store in London's Soho district. This era saw the emergence of many now-legendary European electronic acts - Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers. "You could go out every night," he said. "I came back here and really wanted to get into it."
Upon returning to Philly, he did just that, landing a job managing Cue Records, an iconic shop for Philly dance/electronic/hip-hop fans. Owner Tony Schiro also had the soon-to-close Fluid and Latest Dish, where Stevcic finally got onto the decks in front of live listeners.
Though he initially specialized in drum-and-bass at Cue, Stevcic had an eclectic ear. "People always asked, 'What do you spin?' " he said. "I don't know, whatever I like. I don't get constrained by genre."
In 2002, Stevcic began working for Supper owner Mitch Prensky, who was then running only his catering company, Global Dish. Already intrigued by the restaurant scene thanks to its shared DNA with nightlife, Stevcic researched food trends and organized events. Every once in a while, somebody would hand him a knife. "Sometimes they were so backed up they'd be like, 'Jugo, get in the kitchen!' " he said. "I was the one peeling the cipollinis."
From turntables to tabletops
In 2004, Stevcic and his wife, Bethany, planned a post-wedding trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on the Maya Riviera, south of Cancun. The honeymoon became longterm once Stevcic began working for Rob Garza, half of noted DJ duo Thievery Corporation and owner of several clubs and restaurants in the town. Over five years, Stevcic spent time spinning, managing and reconnecting with the Mexican cuisine of his childhood. He and Bethany also had a daughter, Lila Rose, who's now 6.
Back in Philly by 2009, Stevcic grew increasingly interested in opening his own place with younger brother Gregory, a Boston-based chef. After talks about purchasing the Latest Dish didn't pan out, Stevcic began shopping for a modest cafe space. He answered a "for rent" sign at Almanac Market, and Chismosa - Spanish slang for a gossiping, gabby female - opened in March 2012.
With Gregory, Stevcic developed the cafe's menu. It's Latin, without adhering to any strict rules. The reality of the real estate already demanded creativity: Since it's not zoned for an exhaust hood, Stevcic can't grill anything, a limitation not lost on someone with Argentine blood.
Instead, he uses a fleet of Crock Pots to slow-braise pork, chicken and beef for his dressed-up tortas and quesadillas. "Even though I can't sear things, I can still give them awesome flavor," he said.
Such sabor also shows up in Stevcic's salads, heartied up with smoked seafood; corn husk-wrapped tamales; and pride-and-joy ceviches, made with citrus-marinated Atlantic white fish and a kaleidoscopic dice of cilantro, jalapeño and green, red, yellow and orange bell peppers.
Like his approach to music, Stevcic always looks to work seemingly incongruous elements into his cooking. Note the Lebanese olive oil he loves, or his use of traditionally Middle Eastern sumac in marinades. "I like not being confined by names, genres or styles," he said. "They're all equal. They're all the same."
Stevcic, who hasn't performed as DJ Jugo since 2011, sometimes feels wistful about the wheels of steel. "I definitely miss that feeling of DJing - getting a rise out of a crowd," he said. But he believes that there a correlation between music and food. "It's a passion," he said. "When you're trying to present it to somebody else, it comes from inside of you. You put your love into it. If you don't, it's not going to be good."
Cafe Chismosa is at 900 N. Fourth St.
Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene for more than six years. His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that warrants investigation, contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @drewlazor.