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Top Chef winner makes his mark in tough industry

Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga has a job, but his fellow chefs face a hard time finding one.

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Kevin Sbraga won Bravo TV's 'Top Chef: Washington, D.C.' Wednesday night. Sbraga, who is African-American and Italian, describes himself as the 'Barack Obama of the cooking game,' declaring that wanted to prove 'he can.' He has proven that 'he can' win the contest, but he and fellow chefs still have to make it in the shrinking world of top chefs, which has seen a 23 percent job loss rate in the past decade.

David Geisbrecht / Bravo

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Kevin Sbraga, executive chef at Rat's Restaurant in Hamilton, N.J., won the season finale of Bravo's Top Chef: Washington D.C. Wednesday night, garnering accolades and lots of Twitter attention for his dessert version of a Singapore Sling.

But when the studio lights fade and the attention turns elsewhere, Mr. Sbraga returns to an industry whose future looks far less bright. Becoming a full-time chef in America is a tough business and getting tougher.

In the past decade, 23 percent of US chef jobs have disappeared. That leaves about 100,000 chefs toiling in mostly high-end restaurants or country clubs.

Average pay? Only $44,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Why aren't there more top chef jobs? Consumer habits are changing.

“High-end restaurants will always have their audience,” says Andrew Abelman, president of Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary institute in Cambridge, Mass. But “some people are shifting down. Where they might have gone to an upper-class steakhouse like Morton’s, they move down to a Chili’s or Applebee’s. And people who would have gone to Chili’s before might go to McDonald’s now.”

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