Q&A with Chef Tyler Florence
Find out what musicians inspire him and how his Southern roots influence his palate.
Tyler: My favorite comfort food would have be braised beef. You know, beef, slow-cooked in a Dutch oven or in a slow cooker until it falls apart with simple mushrooms, some onions and lots of fresh thyme and garlic. That just over either butter noodles or mashed potatoes, and it's just absolutely delicious to me. Hands down—that's my favorite comfort food.
Tyler: My cooking influence is the need of people to feed their families well, and that's why I always think that's always the challenge—to create opportunities for people to really enjoy themselves in the kitchen, because I know what a struggle it can be. I work 80 hours a week—a lot of people work really, really hard—and I know what it's like to have to get dinner on table and feel really good about it. To me that's always a challenge, and I get a lot of inspiration out of making people feel good.
When I'm home, I always try to get up early with my kids and make them scrambled eggs or make them waffles from scratch or make pancakes. We sit there, and we make a thing of it. We have an 18-month-old, and he has a little chair he pushes around the kitchen, and he likes to cook a lot so I'll crack the egg for him, and he'll take it and put in the bowl. He likes to flip pancakes.
Tyler: There's probably a dozen. … We had 3,000 people last weekend at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. It's my sixth year going down, so we're veterans of the festival, and in all these situations, we usually hire a man on the ground. We'll hire in an independent caterer that can order the stuff for us, and it's always like, "Hey, this is exactly what I'm talking about," and I'll speak very slowly and very clearly. I want A, B and C, and I get there and it has nothing to do with what I talked about. My brown sauce looks like hot and sour soup, and then you have to make the best of it. It's probably not the worst meal I've ever made, but it's probably 40 percent of what I could have done.
But it's never about the screwup—it's always about the recovery. That's the thing about it…if it comes out a little rare you call it carpaccio. It comes out a little overcooked, you shred it up and put in on a sandwich. It's never about, "Oh my God, I screwed this up." It's about, "Okay, what can I turn this into now?"
I have a couple great tips:
- If it's too spicy, add a little sugar to it. It will sort of balance out the flavor.
- If you put too much salt in it, sugar also kind of counteracts that a little bit. So if you season with sugar, it generally neutralizes some of that intensity, and also, you can add a little water to it to dilute it a little more.
Tyler: I like loud music. I like music that fills my ears. I'm just going to pull out my iPod and see what we got here. We're always interested in new bands because we have a retail store in northern California. I think it's got to be happy. I think it's got to be something kind of big, like this Wilco from a couple years ago, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Tyler: In California, it's got to be Mexican. To me, I think Latin American food and Mexican food is as important to North America as really good Italian food is to Europe. … America is sort of a sub culture of a lot of different places—it's a melting pot. When you go to Mexico, it's pure, and they have a wonderful culture that they don't really pull from a lot of different societies. It's their society, their culture that they really celebrate. And the food's beautiful.
Tyler: I really have a hard time cooking without pork. I think it's got to have a little bacon in it someplace—a little bit of hamhock, a little bit of pancetta. I just think that flavor balances everything out.
I think olive oil's really important. I think fresh thyme is probably my herb of choice—it's winter, it's spring, it's summer, it's fall. It's not too big, because sometimes sage can be too much, or rosemary can be too powerful. But I think fresh thyme is just delicious.
Tyler: I want to be Jacques Pepin. I want to have a nice 50-, 60-year career. I want to be on PBS when I'm 70-something, still kicking it, having a great time, showing up in Aspen to sign cookbooks. I just want to have a nice, big, long career. I never want to spike—I never want to be the hottest thing on the planet.
Tyler: I would say I'm my toughest critic, because I know if we nail it. We just did dinner in Miami at the Versace mansion for 125 people, and it was for American Express, and it was so good. Every dish, the concept…we put it on paper, drew pictures of, executed exactly what we thought it was going to be.
And when it's not, I always think to myself—even if it's something that no one ever, in a million years, would know—I know it. I know it loud and clear, and I always want to push myself to be the best chef I can possibly be. When I look at myself in the mirror every day, I'm like, "Are you the real deal, or are you not?" You're only as good as the last plate of food you put out. Period. If that last plate of food you put out is mediocre, you're a mediocre chef.
Tyler: I think you need a super sharp knife. I think you need a big—like at least a 24-inch—wooden cutting board, and I think you need one good set of pots and pans. Then, inside that, you need three good pans. … You need a roasting pan. You need a good stockpot you make can make soup, chili, cook shrimp, push lobster, whatever you want in. And then you need a good size sauté pan—at least 12 inches, if not bigger. Something that has all-metal construction, preferably riveted not welded handles so it's not going to break.
Tyler: I'd probably want it to be the first things I really tasted. I grew up in the South, so a Southern feast. It'd be like really crispy black pepper fried chicken and pork chops, collard greens—cooked all day with a hamhock—and ambrosia and coconut cake. Those are the flavors that really mean a lot to me. Now, I moved on to my own cooking style, which is very northern California. To me, it's got to be good, down home Southern cooking.
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