Some might think the desert an unusual destination for chef Eric Ripert, the reigning king of seafood in New York. But after 11 years in Manhattan, he's decided to go bicoastal. At a new restaurant, Azur by Le Bernardin (49-4999 Eisenhower Dr., La Quinta, Calif.; 760/777-4835; dinner for two $120), he's had to adapt his celebrated formula to Palm Springs tastes: "We've added some meat to the menu. This isn't exactly sea urchin country yet." Now that Ripert has been spending more time than ever in the air, here are some of his favorite travel tips:
1. Caviar and foie gras make a perfect in-flight meal.
"Traveling with fellow chefs is terrific; the last time we flew to Caracas for a charity fund-raiser, we had a picnic on board. Daniel [Boulud] brought the foie gras, Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] did cured meats, and I supplied the caviar. Everyone brought wine. The airlines say you can't drink your own wine on board, but I find it's okay as long as you share with the flight attendants!"
2. Don't forget to bring a good book—or three.
"On my last trip, I took Hot, Salty, Sour, Sweet, on Southeast Asian cuisine; one of Alain Ducasse's books; and Terra: Cooking from the Heart of the Napa Valley. I always include a mix because I never know what may inspire me next."
3. If it's essential, carry it on.
"My worst travel nightmare: I went on vacation to Aspen and my luggage got lost. My suitcase arrived a week later—just in time for me to pick it up on the way home."
4. If you can't carry it on, send it ahead.
"People wonder where we get our ingredients in Palm Springs. I had no idea La Quinta is a farming region with so many amazing vegetables. As for the fish, it comes from the same place as Le Bernardin's: Browne Trading Co. We love FedEx and DHL! If Azur stuck to regional ingredients, we'd have to serve snake."