John Besh Travels To Iceland To Sip A Little Black Death

New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh is one of the most decorated food figures in the American South, having been recognized by the James Beard Foundation on multiple occasions for his cooking — which is grounded in the great traditions of France. But as we find out in this travel interview, Besh spent a lot of time recently away from his nine restaurants — traveling to Israel, New York City and, of course, his beloved France. He tells us about it, as well as his "1,000 mile" foods.

Where are you planning to travel in 2013?

For right now, I'll work on spending some time closer to home this year since last year brought about a lot of European travel while working on my third cookbook. However, I will be traveling to Israel in the fall with a few chef friends to cook and eat. I've been before, and was amazed at the cultural diversity that exists there. I might also have the opportunity to travel to the Sichuan Province of China and explore its food culture.

If you could travel anywhere (else), and had infinite resources, where would you go in 2013?

I'm still very interested in traveling to Southeast Asia, India and West Africa. Time is such a coveted resource that I wish I had more of.

How much does food/drink have to do, if at all, with your travel plans for 2013?

Food is that one cultural expression that dictates where we travel. We ski in places with a food culture. If we travel to beaches and sunshine, then it's dictated by local food culture.

What was your most memorable trip from the past few years?

Too many to list. I discover things wherever I go and that discovery is what makes a trip. Abraxas in Tel Aviv was moving, as was the soupe de poisson that I enjoyed with Alain Assaud in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in his famous restaurant.

What airlines do you prefer to fly?

It depends on where I fly. In the States I'm back and forth to NYC a lot — and so JetBlue is a must. To Europe, I love Lufthansa and in the Americas it's often Delta. My Dad was a Delta pilot after all.

What about hotels? Any standout places that you've stayed or would like to stay?

The Mamilla in Jerusalem was life changing, with its amazing attention to detail and glorious sunsets over the Jaffa Gates. I love independents like the Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee for an indescribable taste of place with hospitality to match.

What are you favorite cities for food, and if not mentioned above, where are you yearning to go to try the local cuisine?

New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Santa Fe, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv, San Sebastián.

Is there a food you have traveled over 1,000 miles for?

Very often! Crispy beef at RedFarm in NYC, soupe de poisson de roche in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence at Alain Assaud's Le Marceau Restaurant. Churros y chocolate from street side vendors in Madrid; cracked conch at Da Conch Shack in Providenciales; fish and provisions at Tasty's in Anguilla; Carciofi alla giudía Piperno in Rome; grilled pigs feet with béarnaise at Au Pied de Cochon in Paris; forelle blau (truite au bleu) at the Spielweg in Münstertal Germany.

Best food-related souvenir that you have ever brought back?

Random antique spoons from markets in Provence, gnocchi board from Rome and a potato harp from Germany.

Any favorite cocktail/beer/wine spots from your travels?

Too many to mention. My favorite beer spots are Andechs Monastery outside of Munich and Schumacher brewery in Düsseldorf.

Have you ever brought beer/wine/booze back from someplace?

Always. Black Death from Iceland, Schladerer schnaps from Staufen, Germany, ornate grappa bottles from Milan and pastis from Provence.

Any must-have travel items?

Bose headphones and my iPad loaded with movies and to-do lists to work on while I fly.

Best travel nightmare story?

If you travel, you will periodically have a nightmare, so be prepared. Carry copies of passports, have printed itineraries with numbers in case of phone loss, don't keep all money and credit cards in one place and it's helpful to have at least one guide book. Old school!

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