Jan. 24, 2018
He's setting trends in the food industry, and to say he has seen his share of success is an understatement. Chef Travis Johnson, Class of 2006, and his energy for crafting unforgettable meals, is reinventing what it means to eat in college dining centers across the country. His creations are connecting people to each other and to new experiences, making the world a better place one bite at a time.
University dining is his specialty, and it has spurred him on to winning numerous awards including Chef of the Year New Orleans, gold medals at regional competitions, a silver at nationals, and finishing 3rd in the country for University Chefs 2017. A Google search alone will tell you that Travis is truly one of the most well-known chefs in the nation.
A Food Frenzy
Travis is the executive culinary director of Seminole Dining on the Florida State University (FSU) campus, but before overseeing the culinary operations for all of FSU, Travis spent eight years honing his craft as the district executive chef at Tulane University (TU) in New Orleans. “Every conversation is about food in New Orleans. Chefs run the city, and during lunch you're already talking about dinner,” says Travis. In a place where people get more excited about food than almost anything else, Travis set himself apart by thinking outside the box, yet preserved tradition by bringing out specific flavors with technique. From making the perfect roux and cutting the trinity in vegetables, to mixing Cajun and Creole flavors, Travis spent nearly each day creating traditional southern staples with his own flair.
This past summer, Travis represented the United States, Sodexo, and the American Culinary Federation on a global chef tour throughout Europe, making 21 stops at companies such as 3M, BMW, and Mercedes. His choice of cuisine for the top executives?
Fun, New Orleans fare, of course. “When I traveled to Europe, I met people who hadn't had a palate for this type of food before, so they had no expectations. I enjoy learning and also teaching people things that they haven't done before.
“When I traveled to Europe, I met people who hadn't had a palate for this type of food before, so they had no expectations. I enjoy learning and also teaching people things that they haven’t done before.”Travis Johnson
And as for the number of more than 5,000 mouths fed in Europe, that's something Travis is accustomed to; Travis is responsible for thousands of meals on multiple campuses, each with brands of their own. Many of these brands have won awards for creativity and taste as well! For example, Pickles What's the Dill is a high-end New York-style deli with a Louisiana twist. TU is also home to two groundbreaking food trucks, with Rouler (serving “Nola” comfort food such as gumbo and po'boys) being the first in the US to accept college meal swipes via an ID card. Ironside Waffles (on wheels!) notably serves superhero themed made-to-order waffle sandwiches. Travis has shared this creativity and talent with more than 100 universities working for Sodexo, a world leader in food service and facilities management.
Aside from working with a marketing team and curating the “feel and flow” of campus food service, Travis also develops recipes using local ingredients. Over a 14-month period, he worked with the Louisiana Beef Industry Council, local ranchers, producers, and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to bring certified Louisiana beef from ranches to the tables of eight universities.
A Culinary Conquest
It wasn't that long ago that Travis was on the other end of the counter, receiving Sodexo meals as a BVU student. January of his freshman year, Travis told Ken Allen, BVU's general manager of Sodexo, that he could make omelets. After cooking omelets on the weekends and working brunches, Travis grew into a student manager, completed a culinary internship, and officially became a Sodexo team member after graduation where he supported regional events for two years. He then traveled to Kansas City to become the executive chef at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, followed by a move to New Orleans in 2010. At FSU, he is now running one of largest university culinary dining services in the country.
Here for the Hungry
Regardless of his success and busy hours, Travis still finds time to give back. According to Stophunger.org, Travis is a mentor for volunteers, as he is involved in the many organizations and activities which fight against hunger for young people. Much of his time volunteering has been spent working with young chefs at Café Reconcile, a nonprofit daytime eatery with meals cooked by at-risk youth receiving job training. The Wounded Warrior Project; Second Harvest Food Bank; Café Hope; and the New Orleans Mission, which provides nearly 1,500 weekly meals to the local homeless community from leftovers donated by local universities, have also seen a lot of Travis. “BVU programs influence behavior for students to want to be a part of a bigger community, which is why I sit on the board of so many nonprofits, volunteer, and work to certify homeless to get jobs cooking in kitchens.” Travis donates his award winnings to Café Reconcile as well.
It's clear that Travis creates exceptional dining experiences through his own innovation and unique flair on comfort food, which is something he hasn't left behind in Louisiana. At FSU, Travis is already hard at work creating new brands that include a Cuban restaurant, custom designed burgers, Tuscan pizzas with homemade dough and sauce, authentic phở bone broth, and even performance menus for athletes. “It's a new audience, but at the end of the day it all comes back to creating tasty, healthy, nutritious food that is accessible to students and enhances their experience.”