Talking Travel With: Chef John Besh
You can’t talk about New Orleans’s restaurant scene without mentioning John Besh. The all-star chef runs nine restaurants via his Besh Group—including the new Shaya (with executive chef/partner and James Beard Award winner Alon Shaya) and the taqueria Johnny Sánchez, a partnership with Aarón Sanchez.
Next up: his fourth cookbook Besh Big Easy, which hits shelves on Sept. 29. Inside, you’ll find 101 original recipes that showcase Besh’s dedication to New Orleans—think crawfish beignets, one-pot Creole tomato soup, and shrimp étoufée. Here, Besh dishes on his travel habits, most memorable meals, and more.
What was your first international journey?
I sailed for a long weekend from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico, while in the U.S. Marine Corps.
What was your latest trip?
I traveled to Israel for 10 days and then Rome for a week with the whole family—plus my mom and two in-laws.
Where to next?
I am going to Milan to cook for a few days and then off to visit friends in Florence.
Aisle or window seat?
I'm a window guy!
Check or carry on?
I prefer to check when traveling abroad and carry on if it is a domestic flight.
What destination do you hate sharing with others?
The sunrise over the Kalahari with the sounds of the wild awakening.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My wife Jenifer. She is always up for an adventure. We lived in Germany and France, but have traveled the globe together.
What was your worst flying experience?
I sat in the last row in the middle seat all the way from Johannesburg to D.C. sandwiched for the better part of 20 hours between two very large people. Can you say claustrophobic?
What is the strangest thing you've carried-on?
The strangest thing I carried on was a fermented shark from Iceland. It was a gift, and it smelled just awful!
What is the strangest thing you've ever bought on the road?
It's not strange to me, but I've been known to purchase antique cookware. Yes, pots and pans as carry-ons.
Is there one item that is always in your suitcase?
I always carry an extra pair of headphones and a book I've been meaning to read.
What is the most interesting encounter you've had with a stranger on the road?
There are too many to list! Once our car slid into a steep ditch in Burgundy. I thought I was done for when all of a sudden, to our surprise, a truck of short, barrel-chested Frenchmen pulled up, lifted the car out of the ditch—and before we knew it, they were gone. I got back into the car and my wife and I wondered who they were. And then my three-year-old said, "Those were the angles I prayed for. Are all angels French, Daddy?"
What is the best book you've read on the road?
When A Year in Provence came out, I inhaled it and created impromptu itineraries based on the great makers and lunches of note.
If you could live the life of classic explorer, whose would you chose?
I've forever been amazed by Magellan, but I have to say that closer to home I forever ponder the sights, sounds, and smells that Lewis and Clark encountered. The planning, the preparation, the duration, and the meticulous documentation of all that they endured inspire me.
What is your most memorable meal from your travels?
October in Provence at Chez Bruno. Rabbit, truffles, squab, crepes.... Wild and delicious!
What is your favorite souvenir?
When I was poor, it was a collection of menus. Later I turned them into wallpaper!
If your travels were a movie, what film would they be?
Indiana Jones meets Roman Holiday.
Brooke Porter Katz is the Travel and Food Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.