The Daniel Boulud protégé is in the process of looking for a space.
Travis Swikard
Credit: Courtesy of Aliza Eliazarov

Travis Swikard is returning to his San Diego roots. Last month, the Daniel Boulud protégé left his job as executive chef at NYC's Boulud Sud and culinary director of Bar Boulud and Epicerie Boulud, and now he's announcing what's next: he'll be opening a Mediterranean-inspired, California-inflected restaurant in the San Diego area, where he grew up. Swikard, who counts Spoon and Stable's Gavin Kaysen as another career-long mentor, is currently in the process of hunting for the perfect space.

"It feels like it was meant to be," Swikard tells Food & Wine of building his new concept, after over a decade working with Daniel Boulud. "When I went to New York, I always wanted to work for the best, learn from that experience, and then do it on my own, and now I'm in that place. I accomplished everything I wanted to do in New York, and it feels right. Daniel has been nothing but supportive throughout this whole process."

The chef officially moves back to San Diego with his family on September 30, but in the month since leaving Boulud Sud, Swikard says he's only been in New York for four days. That's because he's been traveling and eating all over the place—at Suraya in Philadelphia, and Felix, Animal, and The Nomad in Los Angeles, and around Sicily, Cape Cod, and Chicago—as he works through the creative process of solidifying his restaurant.

"I want to do a more California-derived Mediterranean cuisine," says Swikard, who cites the Mexican food of his childhood as a big inspiration. "Light, bright, delicious cuisine. I’m not going to say it's 'healthy,' but that’s what California cuisine is: bright, light, textured, vegetable- and seafood-forward."

In San Diego, Swikard hopes to encourage the sort of culinary revolution that has taken hold in L.A. In addition to the mentorship and friendship of Boulud, he also cites Kaysen—not only a mentor since Swikard was 15, but the one who connected him with Boulud in the first place—and his influence with Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis as an inspiration.

"I've seen what Gavin did in Minnesota," he says. "It's not about going there and showing off what I can do. It's about building myself into the community and what's happening there, and helping to build more things there. Invest in my community and my staff and my people ... The core of what Daniel is, and what I’ve learned from him, is the hospitality side. Creating an incredible experience that’s all built on the foundation of hospitality. Taking care of your staff and the people around you—making people feel good about the place that they’re in."