Chefs celebrate Black History Month at BCC

Posted: February 25, 2014

MOUNT HOLLY There are plenty of ways to honor Black History Month, but Sunday at Burlington County College was definitely one of the tastiest.

Top chefs and South Jersey natives Kevin Sbraga, a Philadelphia restaurateur, and Tim Witcher, a former executive chef who is now a culinary arts teacher, teamed up at the college's Culinary Arts Center in Mount Holly to give cooking demonstrations.

Called "A Taste of Soul," it was part of the college's monthlong celebration recognizing the contributions of African Americans.

Both men have had remarkable cooking careers since they became friends as culinary students at the Burlington County Institute of Technology, where Witcher was named a 2012 teacher of the year.

Witcher, 34, who had a chef grandfather, an "amazing cook" of a mother, and now is a host on Jersey Chef, an online cooking show, said he believed in food's power as a cultural ambassador. He challenges his students to stretch their ambitions as well as their palates.

He was doing some of that Sunday.

His message: Do not fear the lamb.

"Anybody scared of lamb?" he asked as hands went up.

He promised them ungamey goodness, and he delivered with a delicious braised lamb shank on savory bread pudding with cucumber tomato relish served to all attendees.

Sbraga, 35, whose first ventrue, Sbraga, was hailed by Esquire magazine as a best new restaurant, led his guests through the making of spicy hot chicken. He said he serves an even spicier version at the Fat Ham, a Southern-cooking-inspired restaurant he opened at the end of 2013.

The son of an Italian American mother and African American father who had a family baking business, Sbraga fielded lots of questions about his cooking and his career, which included winning season seven of the show Top Chef.

One guest asked how he got to open a restaurant.

He said he had been unemployed for about 18 months and was pretty desperate, so he tried out for Top Chef.

"I was lucky enough to get on, and I was lucky enough to win," he said. His audience broke out in applause.

The prize money and public attention helped pave the way for his first restaurant.

In a break between demonstrations, he said he participated in the event in part to give back to the community. He said he also wanted to show young African Americans the only way out isn't athletics.

"Business is a way out. Law school is a way out. Culinary is a way out. Entertainment is a way out. There are so many options available," he said.


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rgiordano@phillynews.com

@ritagiordano

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