Eater’s 2021 restaurant of the year is solidly into its second year with virtually no letup in volume since day one; operating a consistently-packed restaurant is impressive in any climate, let alone a pandemic, especially given that Callie has 6,500-square-feet of space to fill. Despite all that, chef Travis Swikard is giving up his kitchen and dining room on September 29 and 30 when he’ll be welcoming a new-to-San Diego chef to kick off “Flavors of the Sun” at Callie, an ongoing guest chef series that will feature Swikard’s local and nationally-renowned chef friends.
Swikard spent much of the run-up time to Callie’s opening creating relationships with area purveyors and popping up at San Diego restaurants like Jeune et Jolie and Ironside; with this new series, he’s extending his stage to like-minded chefs. He and his first guest, Perfecte Rocher, have already become fast friends since the chef moved with his family to San Diego earlier this year, and although Swikard’s contributing a canape and a dessert course to the event’s menu, he says the dinner will be focused on giving Rocher the opportunity to introduce himself to San Diego diners.
Rocher arrives in San Diego from Seattle, where he and wife Alia ran the acclaimed tasting menu-only Tarsan i Jane, which earned four stars from the Seattle Times and was named to GQ magazine’s list of the “10 Best Restaurants in America’’ before the couple made the wrenching decision to shutter restaurant at the height of the pandemic.
Born in a small village outside of Valencia, Spain, where his grandmother was a butcher and his grandfather opened a restaurant that received a nod from the Michelin Guide in the late ‘70s, Rocher was raised in kitchens. But instead of staying home to work in his family’s restaurant he rebelled, founding a punk band at 13 years old and setting off to tour Europe; as a teenager, he’d cook paella pop-ups just to support his music career.
Eventually, Rocher found his way back into a kitchen, first as dishwasher at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London and then as a chef at renowned spots like El Bulli and Martin Berasategui in Spain and San Francisco’s Campton Place and Gary Danko. In 2014, he helped open smoke.oil.salt in Los Angeles, which earned high praise from the legendary Jonathan Gold of the LA Times.
Calling himself a frustrated musician, Rocher says that his food has punk rock sensibilities. He doesn’t cook Spanish cuisine in the traditional sense but there are also clear links to his culture. Dishes on his menu for “Flavors of the Sun”, are labeled in the Valencian language and include tomato toast with 60-day aged jamon iberico and local bluefin tuna belly as well as patatas bravas with horseradish aioli. But there’s also dishes informed by his world travels and inspired by the ingredients around him, including a pad Thai with beet-stained daikon noodles, a popular item from Tarsan i Jane, along with miso-charred octopus with chicken chicharron rice and homemade kimchi and koji-cured kampachi in a leche de tigre made with local passion fruit.
His debut dinner at Callie is a five-course, family-style menu for $85, with optional wine pairings and sherry cocktails and a portion of sales going to Feeding San Diego. Though most reservations sold out in the first 45 minutes they were released, Swikard says there are a few tables left for Thursday’s dinner (guests should contact the restaurant directly for availability) and the walk-in bar will be offering a la carte options from Rocher’s menu.