From an early age, Ryan Swanson spent his days in kitchens, mostly with his mother and grandmother.

“My grandma was a great baker,” he said. “But she also cooked every meal, and I was in the kitchen with her constantly. I realized you never go hungry in the kitchen.”

As a tyke, he was frequently beating on pots and pans; family members thought that he’d become either a drummer or a chef.

The latter won out. Along the way, however, there was his dream of following in his father’s footsteps and playing professional hockey. Roger Swanson was drafted by both the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and the Phoenix Roadrunners of the World Hockey Association.

He played for the Flin Flon Bombers, the Tucson Mavericks, Oklahoma City Blazers and San Francisco Shamrocks.

Son Ryan Swanson, in turn, played league hockey for about 16 years, beginning at age 4. But then he abandoned that quest to pursue his career in cuisine.

Growing up in the shadow of South Mountain, Swanson always called Arizona home and today lives in Tempe.

He works in neighboring Chandler, however, where he’s chef de cuisine at the only 5-star dining destination in Arizona—Kai Restaurant in the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass.

He honed his skills for six years at Kai, working up to serve as sous chef for a year before ascending to the position of chef a year ago.

His 15 years in the luxury hospitality and culinary industry previously included a two-year stint as chef de partie at Ko’Sin Restaurant, also inside the Chandler hotel. He also helped open the Chef’s Club in Aspen, Colorado, named one of the 100 best restaurants in the U.S. by Time magazine.

Swanson apprenticed under James Beard award-winning chef Vincent Guerithault, one of a few so honored the Southwest. Guerithault owns and operates Vincent on Camelback in Phoenix.

Swanson then went to college after working with Guerithault at Vincent. He graduated from the Scottsdale Community College culinary arts program in 2006.

After college and a few restaurant jobs, Swanson said he felt a bit burned out and worked for a short time at a furniture store. But, he soon felt the calling to return to a restaurant and headed to the Sheraton Grand.

Swanson is responsible for all the daily operations at Kai—developing and changing the menu as needed, determining seasonal offerings, handling special events, training and scheduling the staff, and ordering food.

He is known for incorporating Native American ingredients into his dishes. The fresh, seasonal and local ingredients reflect the Pima and Maricopa peoples.

Swanson says the environment within Kai is “nourishing,” and has been life-changing for him.

As the chef, his goal for his staff is to give them “the knowledge and skills to test themselves. I want to produce great chefs and have restaurants wanting to hire my staff.”


Recipes from Kai


Pima Bear

2 ounces Tres Amigos Anejo tequila

1 ounce St. Germain liqueur

1 ounce Pink Peppercorn simple syrup

1 ounce fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients in shaker and pour into peppercorn- and salt-rimmed glass. Add a lime wheel garnish.



Old Fashioned

Muddle 3 or 4 orange slices

3 ounces Copper City Bourbon

¾ ounce agave nectar

3 or 4 dashes of AZ Bitters Lab “Figgy Pudding” Bitters

Stir and strain into glass with an ice sphere and flamed orange zest.



Melon Soup 2.0

Makes 4 gallons

10 Charentais melons (orange melons)

2 lemondrop melons

1 liter water

2 medium onions

6 to 8 medium shallots

1 bottle Moscato

6 ounces Melon Vin

Salt and pepper to taste

3 ounces juiced limes

5 cloves of garlic

5 Fresno chilies

Sweat mirepoix (roughly chopped vegetables) with 2/3 of melon mix, to bring out juice. Deglaze with Moscato, about ¾ bottle. Reserve the rest for final seasoning. Put rest of ingredients in blender and combine. Then pass through chinois. Season and chill.



Duck fat and red peppercorn vinaigrette

½ cup red peppercorns, toasted and crushed

1 cup aged sherry vinegar

¼ cup brown butter solids

1 cup rendered duck fat

Salt and sugar to taste

In a blender combine vinegar and brown butter solids. Blend on medium setting and slowly add rendered duck fat. When all fat is added, season with salt and sugar.  Fold in the red peppercorn to finish.

– Recipes courtesy of Kai Restaurant

– Contact Shelley Ridenour at 480-898- 6533 or

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