Kyle Swain, chef/partner at the soon-to-open Watershed at the Mill Valley Lumber Yard, is a Marin convert. A Southern California native, he cooked at Jardinière and Saison before succumbing to the call of the North Bay. He worked with Ged Robertson to open Molina, seeing the restaurant through its transition to Pizzeria Molina and then Bootjack Wood Fired, and he brings the same passion for locally grown foods to the team’s latest project, Watershed. We chatted with Swain about the roots of his culinary life and the genesis of the new restaurant’s name.
1. Where are you from?
I was raised in the town of Poway, a suburb north of San Diego.
2. What motivated you to pursue cooking as a career?
I was working the front of the house at a restaurant in downtown San Diego. At first, it was just a job, but I fell in love with what a restaurant feels like. I liked the discipline of restaurant life; it’s loose but disciplined.
3. How did you end up in Northern California?
During my time in San Diego, I was introduced to the cooking and ethos of Northern California stalwarts such as Zuni Cafe and the French Laundry. I was cooking everything out of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I moved here and saw an ad that they were hiring an oyster shucker. I stayed for a decade.
4. Why cook in Marin?
What drew me to Marin was firstly the vast natural beauty you find yourself immersed in. The flora and fauna of California are something I am passionate about, especially those things that are edible, of which there are many. It was also a refreshing feeling to be much more tied to a community here in Mill Valley. That was something I’d lacked.
5. Why open a restaurant in Marin?
Marin has proven to me to be a place with strong values for land stewardship and environmental concerns. These are values I share and hope to contribute to Watershed. In Mill Valley, some of the hippie vibe has gone away but you can still find it. You see it in the people and some of the institutions. People here are dedicated to preserving that feel in Mill Valley.
6. What does the name Watershed mean?
The building in the Lumber Yard is built over the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio. Here we are at this point in this watershed that starts at Mount Tam, runs through Mill Valley, and onward into Richardson Bay. We are part of that flow.
7. So, is Watershed literally up the creek?
The location has indeed been referred to as “up the creek.” This is a reference meaning that we are connected to another or larger area. And when you think about it and understand the meaning of a watershed, it connects everything — the land, people, animals, farms and towns. Though we are describing Watershed as our “watershed” meaning Mount Tam and Marin, you can argue that a watershed ultimately covers the globe, connecting all of us. But not to take ourselves too seriously, we are still “boards over the creek” as the place has also been described.
Check out our comprehensive guide on where to eat in Marin here.