TYLER FLORENCE is an acclaimed chef, the writer of 16 cookbooks, and head of many successful restaurants. But you probably know him best is from his 26 years on Food Network with shows ranging from How To Boil Water to Food 911 to The Great Food Truck Race.
Florence also “knows how to throw a party.” In fact, he calls it his “super skill." And he says that translates to his restaurants. “We're really good at hospitality at this point,” the food personality says. “Knowing that we're gonna go to the restaurant tonight and we're gonna show 270 people a really good time. That to me is what gets me out of bed every day.”
When I spoke to Florence, the restaurant he was heading to that night was Miller & Lux, his modern American steakhouse at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors, in San Francisco, CA.
“I like to do Americana really well. And then take it to a Michelin level,” Florence says. “And really kind of play into the the familiar, which is the space that I think I get the most traction with when we're communicating with people. So it feels nostalgic.”
After working out at home, and before he headed out to Miller & Lux, Florence spent some time in his garden with MensHealth.com answering questions about food, nutrition, and everything in between.
What breakfast gets you out of bed the morning?
Well, I'm really into intermittent fasting right now. I don't really eat a lot of breakfast anymore, to be honest with you. I found something that works for me, and that's to give my body 16 to 18 hours a day just to really digest and metabolize.
I'll eat one meal a day around five o'clock in the afternoon. And I might have a second meal around eight. That’s my zone. I'm not weird about it. Like, if I've got a business lunch or something like that, of course I'll eat. You gotta figure out what works and, right now, no breakfast works.
What is your diet and fitness like these days?
I just turned 51 in March. And, you know, working with my doctor/nutritionist I get a full blood panel pulled probably three times a year, just to kind of see where we are.
It's really interesting how stress affects your blood sugar and how you metabolize and also how you sleep.
So, we’ve gotten really good at maintaining a good blood sugar and maintaining a good diet. I definitely try to watch a lot of my sugars personally. So low alcohol consumption, low carbohydrates, low sugars, lots of protein, lots of beef.
I try to work out every single day, but it's a chore—like my assistant has to carve an hour out of my day to go work out. I don't casually have time to go work out unless it's like five o'clock in the morning. I hate that. I have a gym in my house. I try to maintain a good Peloton schedule.
What’s your favorite recipe you've ever developed and why?
Well, I've written over 20,000 recipes for foodnetwork.com. Ina Garten has the most downloaded recipes, but I have the highest rated recipes on foodnetwork.com, which I'm very proud of.
We put a lot of work into developing recipes over the years and then there's like the superstar recipes that we call sort of our benchmark recipes that are as good as it gets.
I feel like our fried chicken is something that has just catapulted into stardom and fandom with a lot of people that kind of come to San Francisco, at Wayfare Tavern. It’s one of our master recipes for sure.
What's a go-to weeknight favorite meal for you and why?
It's usually what we called ‘family meal’ at the restaurant. We have sort of standing rotation of seven recipes—every Tuesday night is tacos—and I really kinda get into that.
When I get home, honestly, my wife, Tolan, is a fabulous cook. Tonight she's making a really delicious broccoli soup with some stuff we got out of our CSA box and beautiful, melted cheese toasts go along with that. She’s making it right now as a matter of fact, because she likes to kinda get that going before she picks the kids up from school. So I look forward to that tonight, but my go-to meal is generally what my wife makes.
What would you say to keep in mind when you're trying to make like a healthy meal at home?
I think portion control is really important. I think trying to use things that feel kind of like close to the earth in a way. I always think that's sort of a really great way to not have to think about it too hard. I eat a lot of vegetables. Let me show you my garden.
Oh, wow. That’d be great.
We just flipped it over for the year. This is my pepper patch—I have 20 different varieties of chiles. And there's gonna be big squashes for the year. This is gonna be zucchini and crookneck squash. We just replanted all of our strawberries for the season. And then right behind that, it's gonna be a lot of our climbing trellis. Lots of fresh peas and stuff like that. And the back patch is gonna be tomatoes, that's like the hotspot for the year. These are our spring favas, which are really great.
And at the end of it, all these greens are really super tasty too. So we either take these and put 'em in salads or kinda saute them a little teriyaki sauce and chicken, which is really great. Or just juice 'em too. We juice a lot.
What's the food you never used to like that you finally came around to? And what was the dish that your changed your mind?
When I was growing up, when I was really small, I had severe food allergies. And honestly it’s something I never really talked about before. So, when I was like 14 months of age, not even barely two, my mom took me to Emory University in Atlanta. And, out of 75 things a child my age could be allergic to, I was allergic to 42 of them.
So I had severe food allergies growing up. I was allergic to protein fats. I couldn’t eat chicken fat and I couldn't eat beef fat and cheese. My throat would close up. I would get hives. All I ate was like beets and lentils and goat cheese cause I couldn't eat cow cheese. I ate a lot of salmon as a kid because that was the only thing I could really eat.
So when I really started to grow out of all that—when I was about 13—everything tasted delicious. So everything was sort of like this hyper flavor. Like I'd never had it before. So I don't know if there's anything on my list that I don't like.
What condiment do you put on everything?
I put chili oil on everything. I love chili oil and, and so with a lot of our chiles—I make it towards the end of the season. I make a chili sauce called "Sicilian Slap" which I hand-make and hand-bottle. It's like a little hobby of mine.
And then I'll make white Carolina reapers and habaneros. Like stupid, stupid, hot, but with flavor, right? It's got garlic and fresh herbs and citrus notes and that kinda stuff. That to me is like that really kind of big zingy pop thing. You know, it's like the additional salt and pepper that you throw on top of eggs and pizza and pasta and all kinds of good stuff. I actually prefer chili oil more than I like fermented chili sauces. Tabasco sauce, for example, it's okay. But I think that that sort of like fermented vinegar, sour note, I don't love it. But chili oil, it's just like bang.
What’s the dish that tastes like home to you?
There’s a smell of collard greens and smoked ham hock simmering away that smells just like the South that I just absolutely love. I haven't made collards since New Year’s Eve. That’s sort of a tradition here at the house, you know, like a good Southern boy. Collards and black eyed peas. That to me just smells amazing.
What is your favorite food to smell cooking?
I love beef smoke mixed with charcoal. And like beef fat, hot fat dripping on charcoal searing. That's probably my favorite smell.
Is there an ingredient and recipe that doesn't belong there, but surprises you and it always works?
I think everything works, right? Like literally you hand me a mixed bag of wacky stuff and I could totally make it work with balance. That's spicy, sour, salty, sweet. Think about Thai food, for example. If you get good Thai food, it's like the perfect balance. It's sweet from coconut milk. It's sour from the lime juice and fish sauce. It's got the salty from the fish sauce too. It's got this really nice balance to it. You can really, really make anything work.
You mentioned that you're paring down on alcohol, but do you have a favorite alcohol and food pairing?
I mean I love wine. I love Burgundies specifically and the world's the greatest white wine, French Pinots, are always amazing.
We’re actually producing our own wine with Miller & Lux, which is really kind of fun. And we’re trying to think through with complex steaks that are kind of pricey and what do you match with that? And we've actually found out through trial and error that jammy wines that have a slightly higher residual sugar tastes great with fat and salt, right? It tastes fantastic. So wine’s with good fruit notes with a good full body, that are high alcohol, but relatively low acidity, and, jammy, really jammy. California’s finest. I think that tastes great with delicious steak.
What's your favorite season for food?
That cross season between like the end of the peaches and the first of the pears. It's like late summer, early fall, is my absolute favorite season to cook. You get like an explosion of everything. Cause there's like tomato month and there's like tomato week, right? When everything is just like incredibly delicious and when you you taste things at this seasonal perfection. That's my absolute favorite season to cook.
When you were coming up, did you have any celebrity chef inspiration?
I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Child before she passed away. One of my prized possessions in the world is a photograph of the two of us together. Wolfgang Puck turned to be a really good friend of mine and, and a mentor, which is just amazing. Dean Faring, who's the king of Dallas, is also another really good friend and really good mentor. Charlie Palmer who, was my first New York city restaurant that I worked in when I graduated from New York. He's right up the street in Sonoma. So I think a lot of those people who are in their kind cruising altitude period of their career. Which is really kinda nice to emulate and have that tribal knowledge that you only get from just doing it.