Ashley Christensen
Credit: Photo by Kat Kinsman

Making an early-morning flight is one of life's most tedious tasks. If you've managed to sleep in the first place, you've got to peel yourself from bed, perform enough ablutions so as not to alarm your fellow passengers, haul yourself and any belongings to the airport, submit to varying levels of TSA scrutiny, find your gate, manhandle your bag into a bin, and… oh crap. You didn't have any time to get caffeine or sustenance in your system. Onboard, it's just a parsimonious sachet of nuts and some tepid brown water that's masquerading as coffee.

This happens to everyone, including chefs whose actual job it is to think about food for a living. At the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival, we asked a few of our favorites—including a few who'd taken a red-eye that very morning—how they deal with this early-morning fuel-up. (Just gonna go ahead and spill the beans here: It's coffee. Lotta coffee.)

Ashley Christensen: Death & Taxes, Poole's Diner, and more, Raleigh

I got to the airport at 4:35 a.m. today, which is a 3:30 a.m. rise time. Today the move was pouring a double espresso and throwing it over some ice to enjoy in the car on the way to the airport. Generally I would say a banana. I'm a big fan of the banana, almond milk, almond butter, shot of double espresso as a smoothie. We call it "The Multitasker."

Michael Gulotta: MoPho and Maypop, New Orleans

New Orleans is home of The Smoothie King. Ever since I was a wrestler in high school, my favorite thing has been their Chocolate Hulk. It's called The Hulk and you can get it in chocolate and it's got bananas and walnuts and everything you need to get yourself going. And whenever I get on a plane, there's a Smoothie King in the terminal. My sous chef makes fun of me because every time we travel together I have to have my Chocolate Hulk smoothie. It's basically drinking ice cream. Ice cream is my favorite thing in the world.

Sarah Grueneberg: Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio, Chicago

I usually eat at the airport. In Chicago I go for Tortas Frontera. I get the tortas with the rajas poblano chiles, tomatillo sauce, and avocado. That's all you need. That and eggs.

Rick Bayless: Tortas Frontera, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and more, Chicago

Making people happy at airports was one of our goals. We wanted to break the mold because a lot of the people who make the food in the airports don't respect the guest that's in the airport, the customer. I do. Those people deserve better than what we're giving them right now.

Matthew Jennings: Townsman, Boston

I'll buy a yogurt tonight. It's such a boring answer, but it's real. Maybe some fruit, and get an espresso first thing in the morning. That gets me to noon, and then it's whatever I can get my hands on. Mornings are tough. I never used to be a breakfast person but I actually started eating breakfast regularly in the last year and a half, two years. It does make a huge difference. I personally can't start with a ton of starch and carbs because I totally crash. I try to keep to protein and fruit.

Matt Abdoo: Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker, New York

The strategy is to have my Keurig all ready to go and make myself a nice quick coffee and some form of quick breakfast bar or something that's on-the-go. What I have been doing lately to try to be better about my health meal planning is making myself whole-wheat wrap egg sandwiches so that I can just grab them, put them in the microwave for a minute, and take them.

My trainer has been telling me for my overall health and wellbeing, is that I go for a very long time without eating. It's the industry curse of being a chef. You get home and it's 1 a.m. and you're starving and eat the bodega sandwich or the pizza or a horrible hamburger. You wake up feeling terrible.

So I've been trying to start meal planning. If it's not a breakfast bar or granola bar, it's usually it's a scrambled egg with peppers and onions and cheddar cheese in a whole-wheat wrap. I'll make three or four of them, put them the fridge, take one every morning with my coffee before I go and head to the airplane or work.

Amanda Cohen: Dirt Candy, New York

Coffee. I don't ever have breakfast. I'm not a breakfast hater, I just usually don't have time for it. Sometimes at home I have a cracker with a hard-boiled egg on it. There are these grainy ones from Trader Joe's, these rectangles, and I feel like they're very good for me. They're probably not. They're full of seeds and I'm always picking them out of my teeth.

Rebekah Brooks: Dizengoff, Miami

I just have a cup of coffee. Just get some energy in there.

Kelly Fields: Willa Jean, New Orleans

Generally a banana. That's about it. Banana and coffee. Always coffee. Non-negotiable.

Shane McBride: Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker, New York

I brew a tea at home and I put it in a Yeti and drink the tea in a cab. I like English Breakfast with a little bit of honey.

Justin Carlisle: Ardent, Red Light Ramen, The Laughing Taco

Coffee. Strictly coffee and maybe a croissant.