Travis Swikard can remember the exact moment he knew he would be a chef—he was four-years-old and his father deglazed a pan with cognac, flames erupted into the air, and “It was like magic,” says Swikard. In fact, he can remember every culinary experience he’s ever had with photographic precision: the first time he had duck at eight-years-old while out to dinner with his great grandparents; waking up on the beach in Mexico during a family surfing trip and paddling into the ocean to catch fresh lobster to cook with scrambled eggs for breakfast; unwrapping presents on Christmas morning and discovering the cookbooks of Chef Daniel Boulud. It was clear his interest in the kitchen far superseded others’ his age—while his four brothers and two sisters preferred to play outside, Travis preferred to help his father, an entrepreneur by profession and passionate cook by hobby, prepare dinner for the family. “For me, cooking has always been about making family and friends happy. Creating a reason to gather around the table. That foundation has always kept me grounded, and continues to push me to be the best chef I can be.” Knowing ‘Chef’ was in his DNA, he wasted no time getting to work and building his culinary caliber.
At age 15 and still in school, Travis took his first food job, running a sushi bar inside a San Diego grocery store. He treated the business as his own and quickly learned the dedication needed to succeed. He arrived to the store at 6am every morning before school to cook rice, cut fish, fill the display and set up for the day. He returned immediately after school at 3:30pm and worked until the store closed at 9pm. During high school career week he had to shadow a professional of interest and approached one of the top chefs in San Diego, Deborah Scott, who agreed to take him on. A one week stage turned into a four year job and his first high-end, service-oriented restaurant experience. At Island Prime Travis met other young chefs and became entrenched in the chef community and culture. A fellow young chef had recently come to town, 24-year-old Gavin Kaysen, to be Executive Chef of San Diego’s El Bizcocho. Travis sought him out and the two met at a culinary competition hosted by Alton Brown at the local mall in which Kaysen was competing. At the time neither knew they would eventually be peers, both as Executive Chefs at Chef Daniel Boulud’s lauded New York City restaurants.
Ready to experience cuisine outside of San Diego, Travis enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). There he not only learned French technique, how to raise pigs and slaughter chickens, how to work on a farm and respect the integrity of ingredients, but also the importance of establishing systems in a kitchen and how to manage a team. Upon completing NECI’s culinary arts program Travis headed to England to join the team at Chef Phil Thompson’s renowned Auberge du Lac. The six month stint was an invaluable experience which shaped him as a chef and person. “Being around Chef Phil Thompson showed me the type of chef I wanted to be. I respected his skill and his sensibility. The key to being a great chef is being a great leader, and at Auberge that light bulb went off.” Travis was laser focused and intent on taking away as much as possible, pushing himself harder than ever before. In fact one day Chef Thompson felt he was too focused, and reminded Travis that, “you’re a person, cooking for people”—those simple yet powerful words are ones that he now lives by and reminds his team of that every day.
In 2008 Travis returned to the States and was serendipitously contacted by Gavin Kaysen, who had moved from San Diego to New York City to run Chef Daniel Boulud’s upscale Café Boulud. Kaysen was building his team and solicited Travis to be a part of it. Having regarded Boulud as a culinary icon since childhood, he immediately headed to NYC to stage and got the job (also serendipitous, that same night while out celebrating he met his wife, Mia). The kitchen at Café was filled with talent and Travis thrived, working his way up the line from Garde Manger, Chef de Partie, to Tournant
In 2011, when Chef Boulud announced a new project, a contemporary Mediterranean restaurant that would open across from Lincoln Center, Travis was hand-picked to be Executive Sous Chef. Before the kitchen was constructed and the bar was built, Travis, with Executive Chef Aaron Chambers, researched dishes and flavors, tested recipes after restaurant hours in the kitchen at DANIEL, and met with Boulud to turn his vision into a reality.
In November 2013 Travis’ childhood aspiration became a reality as he was named Executive Chef of Boulud Sud. Travis draws on his diverse culinary background to create dishes inspired by the vibrant region, executed with technique, and driven by ingredients. “Boulud Sud is about elegant and inspired Mediterranean cuisine. It’s about taste, texture, and aroma first and foremost, but also about fun.” As Executive Chef he plans to pay it forward, mentoring and molding young chefs the way many did for him, and continuing to feed friends and family, the reason he’s always cooked.