2015 New York Rising Star Chef Travis Swikard of Boulud Sud

2015 New York Rising Star Chef Travis Swikard of Boulud Sud
February 2015

San Diego native Travis Swikard can remember the moment he knew he would be a chef. Just 4 years old, he watched his father deglaze a pan with Cognac. Flames erupted into the air, and a culinary passion was ignited.

His childhood was far more food-oreinted than most, with a young Swikard getting Daniel Boulud cookbooks for Christmas and cooking alongside his father while his sisters and brothers played outside. Taking his first job running a sushi bar at just 15, Swikard was more than ready for high school career week: approaching Island Prime Chef Deborah Scott, Swikard turned a one-week stage into a four-year job at his first high-end restaurant.  

Swikard immersed himself in the San Diego food scene—even encountering future mentor Gavin Kaysen at a local culinary competition—before enrolling in the New England Culinary Institute. New England led to England, where Swikard joined Phil Thompson’s team at Auberge du Lac and made a pivotal connection between cooking and leading. The lesson served him well when he returned stateside in 2008. Swikard swiftly worked his way up the line after Gavin Kaysen brought him on to the team at Café Boulud. By the time Boulud was opening Boulud Sud, Swikard was hand-picked to be executive sous chef, finally becoming executive chef—and fulfilling a long-burning childhood dream—in November 2013. 



Interview with New York Rising Star Chef Travis Swikard of Boulud Sud

Mary Choi: What made you first get into the industry?
Travis Swikard:
I grew up in a large family, so I started helping out in the kitchen when I was four years old. That’s how I learned to adopt the idea of taking care of people and nourishing family. I knew I wanted to be a chef then and there. I saw my dad cooking Steak Diane at home and he almost burned the house down in the process. But I loved how showy he was and how fun it looked. I was used to seeing my dad entertaining and cooking for our family and friends at our home in San Diego. At 16, I started working at a sushi counter at a grocery store, there I learned about cleanliness and organization. At 18, I worked at Kemo Sabe in San Diego with Chef Deborah Scott. I eventually helped her with two restaurant openings and worked under her for about two and a half years. I met a lot of chefs during this time, including Chef Gavin Kaysen. I trailed with him and then he sent me on the culinary path, pushing me to go to the New England Culinary Institute. I helped out at Café Boulud then opened Boulud Sud. I’ve been with The Dinex Group for seven years.

MC: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face in your career?
TS:
Letting go and trusting the team, giving more responsibility to cooks. Not letting ego get to you and getting used to delegating and teaching. Also, creating an identity as a chef. I always knew what I liked and how I like things to be done. But now I’m trying to separate myself from others and trying to stand out in the industry.

MC: Who would you say is your most influential mentor?
TS:
Gavin took me under his wing at such a young age. He really helped me expand my horizons and pushed me to work in England at Auberge du Lac for about a year and to go to culinary school.

MC: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
TS:
I try my best to get involved, but I get absorbed in getting our restaurant running perfectly. We love supporting farmers markets and creating the neighborhood restaurant. I try to create that comforting environment in the kitchen, that’s tight knit like a family. I also like to go back to my culinary school to chat with the students at job fairs about my experience and to help guide them.

MC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
TS:
I definitely want to have my own restaurant down the line, but that’s not my focus right now. Even though I work for Daniel, I treat Boulud Sud like it’s my own restaurant. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial view of things, but for now I want to help make Boulud Sud the best it can be.