Today on episode 373 of the outdoor biz podcast I’m talking with Travel Creel founder and chef Joshua Schwartz. Joshua and his team love to fish! Their goal is to combine world-class fishing destinations with comfortable accommodations and outstanding dining experiences.
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How’d you get into cooking?
So, my grandfather owned a French bistro, so I kind of grew up in a restaurant as a kid, and he passed away when I was pretty young, and didn’t really know how to deal with his passing.
Didn’t really understand grief and everyone was really upset. My family, my mom, my dad, my sister were all upset and I didn’t really know what to do cuz I wasn’t feeling upset, but I didn’t know how to deal with it. And my mom’s like, you, everyone deals with grief differently, so you just need to choose what you wanna do and how you wanna deal with it.
And I said, well, I’m just gonna be a chef like grandpa was. Oh, cool. And that was really kind of like, I set my sights on it and I never looked back.
So tell us about your cooking career. You cooked at the French Laundry, Bouchon, and Per Se
Yeah, so I started cooking at 14 professionally and worked my way through some of local restaurants and met a chef when I was in high school, who was an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, and he worked for Thomas Keller at his original restaurant in New York called Rakel.
He helped me get set up going to the New England Culinary Institute. Which, which is where I went to school in Vermont. And my first externship, from the way that school worked was you did six months at school, six months as an externship working in a professional kitchen. And then back to school for six months and then back out in the field for six more months. And then you graduated. So my first externship was in New York working for David Bouley at the original Bouley on Duane and Houston. And that was my introduction to fine dining.
When did you have time to pick up fly fishing?
When I was working at the French Laundry we started the project of Buchon and me and another chef friend Jeff Cerciello, we were going to be the sous chefs at Buchon. So we, we were helping with that project and everything was going really well, but it was kind of slow-moving, you know, building a restaurant out and starting it from the ground. , it was slow-moving. So we had, we had a lot of free time. I mean, not a lot, but more than normal. And he asked me if I wanted to go up and fish go fish with him up on Hat Creek. Which is, you know, a beautiful Spring Creek in Northern California. I had grown up fishing as a kid. My grandmother used to take me flounder fishing off the dock on Long Island as a kid. And, and then we moved to Pennsylvania when I was a little bit older and we had ponds in every corner. And I used to use my spin rod and catch bass left and right. And that was kind of like a normal summer routine for me. So I loved fishing. But I’d never fly fished before.
And I caught my first fish on a dry fly and that was it. I mean, on the way home, I overdrew my bank account and bought a fly rod a fly. waiters and boots at the fly shop in Redding. I remember it specifically cause I overdrew my account.
Right, right, right. But I was dead set on like, I’m gonna keep doing this. It’s, yeah. So it’s, it’s a great sport to participate in. Yeah. And then that summer, like we took another, like, we, we all mountain bike and we took. A mountain biking trip up to Tahoe. And I remember one day we were, we were gonna do the Crest Trail and I was like, I’m gonna take the day off from biking and I’m gonna go fishing.
And I went out to the East Carson and, and, and set myself up with a bob or rig for the first time and caught my first Subsurface on a fly rod, on a flash, a flashback, pheasant tail. And then I was just like, now I’m in it. So it was very cool. It was pretty awesome. And that was, that was the beginning.
Then a couple of years later, what happened is I went to New York at that point and went to Per Se, and all my fly fishing gear went into a bin.
So what was the inspiration for Travel Creel? How did those two things mesh into what you’re doing today?
So, a friend of mine has an outfitting company AC Fly Fishing out of Redding. And Anthony had approached me about helping him with a travel trip going to Louisiana for Redfish, and he said, you want to come along and you can go fishing and you’d cook for everybody?
And I’m like yeah, dude. Like I get to basically go do this saltwater trip for free, right? Get to do some fishing and you know, all I gotta do is cook, like I can handle that. So it was a great introduction to travel and hospitality with travel. And I did it for a few years with him. We would do it every year.
We’d set it all up and so he would just do like one, one international trip a year. It was one trip that I did with him. The whole thing is with saltwater fly fishing, there’s no guarantee with fishing. And when you’re in the business of creating experiences for people, you gotta work on your controllables.
And the controllables are hospitality and you know, a good bed to sleep in, nice meals. All those things are controllable when the fishing’s not right. And that was like the premise behind it. That’s what we talked about a lot. And why it worked and it made sense to me and I was able to kind of excel in that world of knowing how to talk to fisherman because I was one of ’em. Right? On top of being able to create a great meal for them. And it just made a really good vibe in, in the lodge, you know? It’s great. Yeah. And now Travel Creel came to life.
Tell everybody what Travel Creel is. What do you do?
So basically right around when Covid started, we had a trip to Louisiana planned. And what happened is we had the guides lined up, the lodges lined up, and then the clients bailed out because of Covid. And we kind of hit the panic button a little bit, what are we gonna do? And I was like, well, let me reach out to all my clients.
I had started working at Del Gado and I had a kid and I got married I transitioned into guiding because it was a way for me to go fishing still Right. And make money. And my wife would be like, yeah, yeah, you can go ’cause you’re making money. So I bought a drift boat. I learned how to row a drift boat and I started, on my weekends going up to Redding and guiding the Sac for trout and ended up getting a permit on the Trinity River and guiding the Trinity. Then that led to me guiding for coastal steelhead as well. The whole premise behind my guiding business was, I can’t guarantee you’re gonna catch a bunch of fish when we go steelhead fishing. But I guarantee you’re gonna have a great lunch.
So I had all these clients, right? So I told Anthony, listen, let me reach out to some of my guys and see if I can put together this group and we can still go. Literally in like 24 hours got the trip filled up. And that’s when it kind of clicked in my head, like, maybe this is something I should be doing. Right. Maybe you know, I could change my role from being just the guy that goes along and fishes and cooks to the guy who puts the trips together. And really step up the hospitality. Take that killer lunch and turn it into a killer experience. And that’s where Travel Creel was born.
I wanna create a business where I can create these experiences, not just in Louisiana, but all over the country, and possibly all over the world.
We should let everybody know as we’re talking that Josh was out for a walk with his daughter and dog, so that’s why you’re activity in the background.
So what are some of the most, let’s start with most exotic places that you’ve taken a group to and kind of had to cook, camp, cook kind of thing?
You know, I haven’t really done much camp cooking. As far as these trips go, I try to make ’em a little bit more upscale. Where I try to find like a nice place for everyone to congregate. Most recently I think probably the out there place has been San Carlos in Baja for fishing, for Rooster Fish and Marlin.
You know, it’s kind of like the wild west of Baja. It’s like old school, Baja. And as far as like logistics go for me and putting a trip together, it’s probably been the most challenging, but most rewarding at the same time.
So how do you, is it still word of mouth or how do you market the business?
I started with just the clients that I have. And it’s, you know, I’m only as good as the last trip I did and every, every little trip I do the word travels and, and you know, I have a client then tell four or five of his buddies and say, you gotta come with me on this next trip. and then those guys tell their friends and it’s, it’s a lot of word of mouth.
And the other, the other part is I have a really great network of friends that are in the fly fishing industry that are all very supportive of what I’m doing. A lot of independent guides. I mean, you and I are talking today because of Dave Neal, Dave Neal. Shout out to Dave great guide.
Yeah. He’s a great friend and independent guide and supports what I do and, and has eaten my food and loves it. And someone like that I can reach out to him with a trip and be like, Hey, listen, I got two spots left to fill on this trip. and if you fill those spots, then I’ll throw you a bone.
And that kind of, that kind of stuff is really helpful too. And it’s, it’s come into play quite a few times, so that’s perfect.
Do you work all, do you also work with any fly shop?
I have been working with George Revelle at Lost Coast Outfitters in San Francisco. So he basically puts together all the lists of gear and everything.
I send it out to clients and then they get to contact George directly or the shop perfect, and get all those items they need for a trip. And in turn it’s a very simple partnership where he helps me put those lists together.
I promote him and he helps me fill seats.
Do you get to do any other outdoor activities?
No, probably not. You know, my kids have been wanting to go snowboarding this year and we’re probably gonna get up there and do that. You know, a lot of everything we do is right here. We live in Sonoma County and we have, we have a big boat that we take out on the lake, or we take out in the bay. The kids like to go be pulled around in a tube or go water skiing.
We try to get out on the boat as much as we can when there’s nice weather. And we love bike rides. We do a little hiking here and there.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the fly fishing biz or outdoor biz?
I think just get out there and experience it and get on the water and you don’t know until you go, you gotta get out there and, and experience it and meet people and network.
If you’re looking to be a guide, get on that water. Learn from the guys that know the water the best. Obviously learn how to row a boat if you’re gonna be running a drift boat. Exactly.
Do you have any daily routines to keep your sanity?
I’d say as far as daily routines mine is getting in my truck and turning it on some music and driving 45 minutes over the hill. A beautiful drive over through vineyards and the rolling hills here. In that 45-minute ride to and from work, I accomplish more in my head than I do accomplish when I’m at home or at work. It gives me a chance to clear my head. It gives me a chance to think about ideas. A lot of people ask me like, when do you have time to come up with ideas for some of your new dishes and stuff? I’m like, most of those ideas come to me while I’m driving to or from work.
Do you read a lot? Do you have any favorite books? Books to give as?
My mom was an English teacher and when you presented that question in email, I was like, I can’t wait to get to it. I was kind of pushed to read as a kid.
I’d say the most recent book that I read is Lords of the Fly. And you know, to me that that book sucked me right into that story. And I actually got to go to Homosassa last year and meet some of the players in that book.
Since you’re a cook, is there a favorite piece of gear that all of us that cook outside should have in our camp kitchen?
Yeah. I think everyone should have, a Japanese Mandolin. They’re not expensive. They’re like 30 bucks. You can get ’em on Amazon. Watch your fingers cuz they’re sharp. But like, it just is a game changer, especially when you’re not in the home kitchen. If you’re doing some outdoor cooking, then you can slice a slice, a cucumber or carrot, whatever, like within seconds. Okay. And it just adds to being able to work quicker and more efficiently when, you know, chopping onions or shallots or things like that.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners?
I’m just really stoked to be here talking to you about what I’m doing and if anyone’s interested in doing a fun adventure and has a passion for fishing and fine food and great company to look us up and check out what we’re doing. The website is Travel Creel Hospitality