Wednesday, March 12
The now 37 year old star was kind enough to sit down with me recently to talk about his experiences as a celebrity chef and the joys and challenges that come with being one.
I began by praising Tyler’s performance--and it really is a performance--at the 2008 Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Fest. Tyler had one the busiest schedules during the festival, yet each time he took the stage he was engaging, personable, and charismatic—never missing a beat. You can usually judge how well a demo is going by counting the number of people who stand up and leave after five minutes. Folks get their picture and quietly shuffle their way through the chairs back to the wine tent. At Tyler’s, people withstood the glaring sun on the outskirts of the tent just to watch. And they stayed, too.
Even in 90 degree heat and dripping with sweat, Tyler seemingly denied no fan an autograph or picture.
Food Network Addict: How did you get so good at these demos?
Tyler: I started working in restaurants when I was 15, and it was a bit of a difficult transition to downgear and start actually producing entertainment cooking that people could really follow and have a good time with. I remember when I first starting doing demos I’d just put people to sleep. People would get up and walk out. I didn’t know how to do it. But after a while you learn how to really get them involved in the cooking process and really have a good time with it. And you constantly remind them we're here to have a good time. You don’t have to throw in a lot of catchphrases, just give them some great information that they can walk away with.
FNA: Some celebrity chefs probably wouldn’t want to deal with the intense heat and stand up there on stage for hours, yet you seem to really enjoy it.
Tyler: I really enjoy doing what I do for a living. Very different from what the Hollywood community offers—a chance to escape for two hours, but you can never experience that—what we [as celebrity chefs] offer is something you can actually enjoy in real life. So it’s a much more approachable type of entertainment. I don’t take it for granted. If they weren’t watching, I wouldn’t be here.
FNA: You recently moved from New York to California. A big change?
Tyler: Not so much a big change, in all honesty. I was really shocked because we were actually looking for a big change. I’d been in New York for about 13 years and was ready to experience something different.
We looked around Los Angeles for a while, but decided to settle in northern California. As a chef, it’s what I call the American Provence. It’s the wine community, it’s the chef’s community, it’s the farm community. And for me it’s really the only place you can have a phenomenal eating experience at a very simple level. The produce is so wonderful. The weather is so warm. They have a very long extended growing season. It’s almost like a European experience. The tomatoes stay on the vine until you eat them, and you can really taste that.
When I moved out there, everything I tasted was like tasting it for the first time. The peaches are just sensational. The figs are great. The tomatoes are amazing. And a lot of this stuff is just growing wild on the side of the road. It’s a wonderful place to be.
FNA: You have two big projects coming up: a restaurant and a cooking store. Tell me about them.
Tyler: The kitchen store is going to be called Tyler Florence Mill Valley. It’s going to be not so much like what Williams Sonoma does for kitchen stores, but more like what Ralph Lauren does for fashion. So you’re going to walk in to a very stylish place. We plan to open this May.
I’ll probably do cooking demos a couple times a month, and open it up to all my colleagues when they’re in town. So Bobby and Giada and Paula might be coming to my place.
The restaurant is going to be called Bar Florence at the Hotel Vertigo. It’s going to be as California as it comes. We want a destination place. I don’t want to create a homogenous, big city restaurant that could be in Philadelphia or Chicago and you’d not know where you are. I want people who come to San Francisco to taste San Francisco.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Tyler Florence.
He discusses his future on Food Network and his thoughts on Robert Irvine, Anthony Bourdain, and more.