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Chef Travis Swikard draws on beauty at his new restaurant Callie

Cover Image for Chef Travis Swikard draws on beauty at his new restaurant Callie
By Sophie Brochu
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Categories:Interview

After more than a decade of cooking in New York City, chef Travis Swikard is home in San Diego with his family. At his brand new restaurant, Callie, located in the East Village neighborhood, Swikard creates flavorful, locally-driven dishes inspired by the Mediterranean coast. See what Swikard has to say about mentorship, the concept of beauty, and innovation.

Tock: You spent a decade in New York City working with lauded chef Daniel Boulud. What was the most important lesson you learned during this time?

Swikard: Along with gaining an incredibly strong work ethic from my time working with Daniel, the most important lessons I learned were the value of mentorship and a true understanding of hospitality. Daniel, along with chef Gavin Kaysen, became two of my strongest mentors and champions and remain so to this day. Through them, I gained an appreciation for making an impact on a future generation of chefs by taking the time to nurture their skills and see their potential in the kitchen. When someone whose work you admire takes the time to invest in you, it goes a long way in instilling both confidence and creativity. Through Callie I have now taken the lessons I learned from Daniel and see the restaurant as a vast opportunity for mentorship and instilling a positive, uplifting restaurant culture here in San Diego. I feel lucky to be at the point where I can give back to rising chefs with their own goals and aspirations. We’re all in this together, to lift each other up and encourage one another to do better every day. In terms of hospitality, Daniel truly lives it and it runs through his veins. He taught me how to uplift the guest experience by sharing an inherent love for people and food that’s beyond words.

Callie’s design reflects the warmth of the sun.

Tock: At Callie, you’re cooking “cuisine du soleil.” Can you explain the philosophy behind this?

Swikard: Meaning cuisine of the sun, our “cuisine du soleil” menu at Callie is deeply infused with flavors of the Mediterranean highlighting the San Diego County terroir. You’ll see ingredients such as harissa, tahini, and za’atar served alongside Meyer lemons grown in my dad’s backyard here in San Diego. Named after the Greek word ‘Kallos’ meaning the most beautiful, Callie draws from the flavors of Greece, Spain, Italy, Morocco, the Middle East, and every place along the Mediterranean coastline and combines those flavors with a Southern Californian sensibility.

 

“We created Callie as a space to celebrate the beauty that lives within people, culture, and cuisine without the constraints that often divide us apart.”

 

Tock: What does beauty mean to you?

Swikard: Beauty can be experienced in so many ways, from the vibrant colors of a dish to the meaningful interaction between our guests and servers when that dish is brought to the table. I see beauty in a variety of mediums. Browsing markets and seeing the fresh bounty they have to offer, in the collaboration and excitement among our team and the connections that our restaurant is already bringing to the community. In this industry, the opportunities to see beauty every day are endless and I feel very fortunate for that. We created Callie as a space to celebrate the beauty that lives within people, culture, and cuisine without the constraints that often divide us apart. We’re all about bringing people together rather than being divisive.

Chef Swikard in the kitchen with one of his sons.

Tock: You returned to your hometown of San Diego to open Callie. How does it feel to be home?

Swikard: I grew up entrenched in the city’s surf and skate culture (and even frequently represented the city with my Mitch’s Surf Shop t-shirt in NYC) and I take great pride in playing even the smallest role in further putting the city on the map from a culinary perspective. I grew up a diehard Padres fan and feel so lucky to now play a part in re-energizing the neighborhood that surrounds the stadium and adding to East Village’s dining scene. Being home has also given me the opportunity to connect with as many local farmers, fishermen, and purveyors as possible and further integrate myself into the San Diego chef community with the mutual goal of changing the way that people view the city’s dining landscape.

 

“We’re always pushing ourselves to be better, faster, and stronger every day.”

 

Tock: What dish are you most excited about right now?

Swikard: Our chilled broccolini has been a favorite of mine since we opened. It has an amazing texture and makes you salivate because it encompasses every component of taste—umami, sweet, spicy, and acidic all in one.

Chilled broccolini with tahini and jalapeno.

Tock: Running a restaurant is a massive team effort. Is there a particular member of the team you’d like to spotlight?

Skiward: It’s tough to call out one person since this is truly a team effort but if I had to recognize someone specifically it would be our GM, Ann Sim. Ann and I worked together in New York and I feel beyond lucky that she took the leap and moved to San Diego to open Callie with me. Beyond being such an integral part of the team, Ann and I share a mutual understanding of what true hospitality is all about.

 

General Manager Ann Sim sets the table.

Tock: What can we expect from Callie in the months ahead?

Swikard: Innovation. We’re constantly looking ahead and trying to better ourselves to provide the best possible guest experience. As we head into fall, we’re looking forward to adjusting our menu with the changing season by looking at what’s happening with the soil and weather. At Callie, we’re always pushing ourselves to be better, faster, and stronger every day. It’s also important to consistently pay attention to what our guests are looking for in order to create the best possible experience.

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