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

by Mary Choi
February 2015

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.