One of the hottest new openings, not only in San Diego but in the country, is Callie, where Chef/Owner Travis Swikard has returned home to open a Mediterranean restaurant featuring the wonderful and bountiful produce Southern California has to offer. When asked about what it’s been like to open a restaurant in his hometown, he replied, “you build this dream, and you want it to be a certain way. I started with it being fun, light, bright, casual, and communal. I wanted it to be all that and more, and when you hear guests using the exact same verbiage to describe their experiences, it is extremely rewarding.”
However, Travis wouldn’t be here without his family. His wife Mia and two sons Taylor (7) and Trevor (4) have been instrumental in launching Callie; Mia handles all marketing and PR on top of her regular day-to-day job, and Taylor and Trevor are an amazing support system. In honor of Father’s Day, we sat down with Chef/Dad Travis to learn about what it’s meant to have his kids around him during the opening of Callie.
What made you come back to California to open up Callie, and how much of a role did your family play in that decision?
My family was definitely the most important factor for me to come home. I wanted my kids to experience the childhood I had, and my whole family is still here, so family events, consisting of around 40 people, are way more accessible. Also, the Southern California lifestyle is just so amazing to grow up in. It’s not as crazy as Los Angeles, and you also get to experience different cultures. And being by the beach and being able to surf is never a bad thing.
From a chef’s point of view, opening a restaurant in California brings you much closer to the produce you’re used to working. As you mature as a chef, you stop showing off technique, and you rely on focusing on the best ingredients. When I was in Manhattan cooking for Daniel Buloud, 90% of the ingredients we used were coming from California. All I needed to do was bring my skill to where the produce was.
What’s the balance between showing your kids your life in the kitchen but also knowing it’s a high-pressure and often dangerous environment?
As a chef/dad, it’s hard to bring them behind the line or on the pass. It’s better for them to stay in the dining room, just because it’s such a dangerous place. However, if I’m there in the morning prepping for service they’ll sit there and watch me do it. But when it’s go time, and people are running around, they aren’t in the kitchen.
But it’s important for me to have them see me in my work envrionment, like I saw with my dad. Having my kids watch me work really hard to push through difficult times will hopefully inspire them and that you have to put your head down and learn and be humble. Being a great leader, a coach, and a team member is what I hope my kids take away from seeing me work.
Do your kids enjoy eating and cooking?
Taylor, when I’m home, will help me out in the kitchen, but when it comes to eating adventurous food, they’re aren’t as inclined.
Is it a goal of yours to broaden their horizons when it comes to enjoying adventurous foods? Are there any foods they’ve taken to like that surprised you?
I would love for them to be adventurous eaters. Part of having a chef as a dad and a mom who is also extremely driven and working for the restaurant on the side, is that dinner time hasn’t really been a place where both parents are home all the time.
However, every time we do a farm tour or visit the fish market, Taylor and Trevor come with me. They get to see all the fish and pick zucchini blossoms with me. It’s funny because they were exposed to broccoli from one of our farm visits, and I used to sneak it in to their pesto and the other week Taylor just picked it out and was excited that he enjoyed and knew what it was.
What are your kids’ favorite dishes at the restaurant?
So they haven’t eaten at Callie yet, but they will be dining for the first time this Father’s Day. Their favorite dish will be definitely be pasta with parmigiano. Our menu heavily consists of crudos and vegetables with lots of spice, acid, and salt. While it’s a very fun style of food, it is not extremely suitable for kids.
What is your favorite thing to make at home with your family?
Definitely either pasta from scratch or bread. We make a lot of pasta made from semolina and water, and you can make a dough, and form any shape you want from it: cavatelli, trofie, and a bunch of oddly shaped pasta are staples for us. To Trevor and Taylor, it’s play-dough. We boil off their favorite shapes and serve with the aforementioned broccoli pesto.