With three restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and a 17-year, Emmy-nominated television career, Chef Tyler Florence has paved a path of culinary excellence.
Tyler started as a dishwasher at 15 in his hometown of Greenville, SC. He graduated from Johnson and Wales University and was hired by Charlie Palmer at his New York restaurant Aureole. There, Florence polished his palate and refined his techniques for world-class cuisine. He later became the executive chef at a Cibo, small Italian restaurant. Shortly after his oldest son, Miles, was born in Brooklyn, he appeared on the Food Network for the first time. "I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it was the first day of the rest of my life," says Florence.
When Food Network offered him a full-time job in 2000, he embraced television to balance work and being a father. He began Food 911, a show in which he traveled the country to help people with their everyday food emergencies. That fall, he published his first cookbook, Real Kitchen.
As the new "celebrity chef" movement swept the nation, Florence's life began to pick up speed. He averaged a book a year, over 100 programs annually, more than 50 public appearances and new business opportunities.
In 2004, Florence met his future wife, Tolan, and the couple married two years later. They moved to Marin County in California, where their son Hayden and daughter Dorothy were born. They opened a retail store in downtown Mill Valley, as well as three restaurants: Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco; El Paseo in downtown Mill Valley; and Tyler Florence Fresh at the San Francisco airport. In 2008, Florence dove into his passion for California wine and created a partnership with Michael Mondavi, which has earned 14 medals in wine competitions across the country.
"The most important thing I do is cook," says Florence. "It gives me pleasure to taste something truly delicious that came from my kitchen and know that one moment is something you and I will share for the rest of our lives."
Florence currently hosts The Great Food Truck Race and Food Court Wars television shows. His tenth cookbook, Tyler Florence Fast, will be published in 2014. He lives with his wife Tolan in Mill Valley, California, with their three children, dogs, chickens and honeybees.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a cooking career?
A: When I was 15, I really wanted a car. My parents told me I would have to get a job and save my money if I wanted something. My girlfriend's parents owned the nicest restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina. I started as a dishwasher but fell in love with the energy of the kitchen. The chef was French and the menu was mostly seafood. I moved from the dish station to prep and then working on the line fairly quickly. It was the first thing I was ever really good at. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a chef for the rest of my life.
Q: Tell us about making the move from restaurants to television. Were there any big surprises or challenges?
A: It was a learning curve. We were taking the format of what Julia Child had invented and making it modern. There was a lot of experimentation. Television production, a lot like a day in a restaurant, can take 12+ hours a day to shoot. I had a lot of stamina and was willing to do just about anything for the shot. The early years were rough – my recipe writing wasn't as polished, and I was cooking food that was too complicated to produce at home. After a few seasons, I finally got it that less was more. Recipes that had fewer, better ingredients and a simple but solid technique played out on television the way they're supposed to: friendly and approachable. After I found my own voice, one that is different from my restaurant voice, we skyrocketed.