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“Top Chef” Kevin Sbraga in Macedonia: Open your mind, there are ways to explore food!


The U.S. Embassy hosted Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” winner Kevin Sbraga in Macedonia earlier this month. His visit was part of the U.S. Department of State’s Culinary Diplomacy Program. During his visit he made stops in Skopje, Ohrid, Sveti Naum, and Jance, sharing his American recipes with chefs, students, and restaurant managers and owners and learning about traditional Macedonian cuisine.

Balkon3 interviewed him after he taught elementary school students how to make American pancakes.


Mr Sbraga, this is your first visit to Macedonia. How do you like it, what are your impressions, emotions?

  • It’s a beautiful country, people are very nice. Today I was cooking with the kids. They were amazing, amazingly patient. They all really care about what they are doing, and I thought there was a lot of fun.

Please tell us more about this culinary diplomacy idea that you’re part of?

  • The whole idea of the culinary diplomacy is for American chefs to be able to , kind of being culinary ambassadors, to showcase some of our American food while learning the food and the culture of the country that they are going to. Here, I have got to cook fry chicken, but I’ve got to eat gomleze. And I ate burek today, and things like that. And those things I will be able to take back to my country.


I saw very interesting photographs from Ohrid. What did you cook there?

  • So, the first thing I did it was something very American, very traditional. Fried chicken and potato salad. And, I just wanted to be able to showcase something that that we were do there. The very next day, which was yesterday , I made a peach salad with goat cheese, that was little bit more fancy, and little bit more creative.

What are the similarities and what is the difference with the American cuisine?

  • I think that Similarities are in the great whole ingredients. I saw great radishes here, and I can find great radishes in the US. And I can find great salad green there, and I can find great salad green here. The way we prepare it may be different . American food is very.. is a melting pot, there is a lot of cultural influence there, there may be Indian influence, maybe influence from Thai, maybe influence from Macedonia, from Portorico, obviously there are influences into the food.  While  in Macedonia and the Balkan region in general, everyone use local things and specifics. I think that is the biggest difference.


What are the positive things and what are the shortcomings of the Macedonian food business? There are lot of campaigns for promotion of the macedonian  food and wine lately. 

  • I think that one of the pluses is the wine. I had amazing wine every single day since day that i am here. And the wine works perfectly with the food. I mean, that balance of good wine and good food is great here. And I am impressed by that. The other thing is again the ingredients, the whole ingredients. The fact that the people of Macedonia go to the market and they shop every day, I think that is amazing. We don’t have that in the US. People don’t shop every day, they shop once a week. But when you go to the fresh market and get your fresh ingredients every day, I think that is amazing..

Shortcomings?..  I don’t know that there is much.. Maybe there could be some more creativity with the food, maybe some more influence, but that is it.. I think the food is here, and the people are here..



Is it the aroma, the smell of the food that is most important? Like it happened in the famous cartoon Ratatouille when the little mouse chef made the notorious restaurant critic his favorite dish and threw him back into his carefree childhood days and his grandma’s kitchen, back to the days when everything was simple and easy …

  • It is a good question. I don’t know.. You know, I think when you are reminiscing about the food.., when I cook, I want to create a memory, I want to create experience.. For me, if I am thinking what my mom cooked , she made a sandwich called grilled cheese, and I don’t think it is just the aroma, I think it is the way it looks too, you know, I can smell the butter toasting, I am imagining the butter cooking from the pancakes, I can hear the butter sizzling on the bread and I can see the cheese starting to ooze out, then I remember the crunch sound when you eat it, and the aroma at the same time, and then the taste.. I think great food is about all of that..  And the very first day here we had meze, and we sat outside and we had this grilled peppers with oil and garlic and parsley, and I’ll never forget that because of the setting and the people and everything was perfect.. that is the first time that I have experienced that..  I think food it does that, it covers all those.. I don’t think is just aroma, or just taste.. I think it is everything..

I will quote Zlatko Gall, a Croatian cook, journalist, commentator… In an interview for Balkon3 he said: Eating only wholegrain cereal, some green leaves, drinking Evian water and running for 50 km a day. To hell with that! That’s not life” . Do you agree?

  • Haha, I agree 100 % with that. Some people, they eat to live, and some people live to eat. And I enjoy food . I enjoy food, not just to taste of it, I enjoy whole experience, I enjoy sitting down and eating and conversating, I enjoy the ambient, enjoy the music, for me that is a part of my life, part of what makes me happy. If there are people that just want evian water  and whole grains , and then they want to run 50 km that is fine for them, but that is not me.

What are the most important things to become a good chef?

  • I think to become a great chef , passion, dedication, commitment and creativity.


What is your advice to Macedonian chefs, what to take care about, to focus on in order to prepare good food, to became well known?

  • This morning I was in a market and I saw swiss chard. It is a leafy vegetable, and I said, Oh, that is beautiful, I haven’t seen that, and one of the guys I was with said: Oh, we serve that with fish. Well in the US we can serve that with anything. It can be with fish, it can be with meat, it can be with chicken. And, I think if Macedonians think that way, Hey I can cook this with a little garlic, and oil, and maybe parsley, and I can serve that with lamb, or I can serve that with pork, or can serve that with trout, I can serve with anything, just open your mind, an don’t think hey, I only can serve that with fish. . there are ways to explore food!

What do you like the most of Balkan food?

  • I like the simplicity of having lot of it. Today in the market I found radish , I found spring onion, I found spring garlic, I found wild ramps, parsley, onion, garlic and I love those flavours, those are my favorite flavours.

You probably travel a lot. Which countries in the region you have visited?

  • I do travel often. I as in Haiti, Caribbean, two weeks ago, and I have been to this region before. I have been to Greece, Turkey and Croatia, next week I will be in Kosovo, so it is exciting to see all this countries.


How do you explain the attitude of the young people. They are kind of proud saying that they can not cook, they can only fry eggs?

  • I think it is important for everyone to learn how to cook and not everyone is a cook gourmet, you now just cook basic things. It’s like cleaning your clothes, everyone need to know how to clean their clothes. So, when kids say they can’t cook, or they don’t  want to  cook, I think they should learn little bit.

Food is your life. Has anything new attracted your attention lately?

  • Everything attracts my attention. There is nothing that doesn’t. Yesterday we watched someone cook outside. They cook in the open fire making the gomleze. And I never seen that done before. I am inspired by that. I am inspired how they used the pan, and they put fire beneath the pan and then they put the little fire.  I am inspired by simple things…


Darko Chekerovski

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