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Gear for great cooking

Tyler Florence is cooking under TV's bright lights these days but, like any good craftsman, he relies on good equipment to play a supporting role.

By PAMELA DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 2001


Tyler Florence is cooking under TV's bright lights these days but, like any good craftsman, he relies on good equipment to play a supporting role.

TAMPA -- Until he was in front of a camera for the first time, Tyler Florence didn't know how much sweat he was capable of producing in just four minutes.

"It was absolutely terrifying," he says. "As soon as the first question rolls out, you see these little trickles run down my face."

Things are different these days. Florence hosts his own Food Network show, Food 911, now in its third season. He was offered the job after logging 40 to 50 appearances on other Food Network shows including In Food Today, Ready Set Cook!, Chef du Jour and Door Knock Dinners.

He now knows all about cameras, knows which way to look when, knows about lighting, directing and timing. He knows to speak slowly and explain things simply.

But most important, Florence doesn't sweat as much as he used to.

The TV chef was in Tampa earlier this month to teach cooking classes at a Publix store on behalf of Crisco. The classes were part of the grocery chain's new Apron's Cooking School.

In between his cooking classes, the Times hooked up with Florence at the Town 'N Country Target store in Hillsborough County for pointers on what items to buy to equip a basic kitchen. (See accompanying story.)

It has been a quick rise to fame for the kid from Greenville, S.C., who now lives in Brooklyn. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in South Carolina, Florence took off for New York in 1992, where he worked with well-known chefs such as Charlie Palmer until earning the executive chef position at Cibo in 1995.

In 1998, Florence became executive chef-partner of the Cafeteria restaurant in New York City, positions he still holds as he carves out a TV career that includes Food 911, regular appearances on the Today show and specials for the Food Network. His book Real Food Volume 1 will be published next year.

Amid all the TV cameras and the chaos, Florence, 30, still finds time for the kitchen.

"I do a lot of cooking," he says. "I'm in constant development with stuff. I have a doodle pad in my notebook where I write down flavors and tastes: black olive and fig or caper and orange. I'll go back later and match that up with something. I'm constantly cooking and refining recipes for my cookbook."

(Food 911 airs at 6 p.m. Mondays, 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. Tuesdays, 1 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Sunday.)

The show takes him around the country visiting people who have cooking dilemmas such as runny Alfredo sauce or dumpy chicken and dumplings. He steps in and demonstrates the proper way to make each recipe, and then everybody eats the food he has created at the end of the show.

"I'm speaking to people and answering their questions about what they want to know. They want to have successes in the kitchen. They don't want to have one-time projects that clean out their wallet and leave them with a sink of dirty dishes."

It takes about 12 hours to shoot one episode of Food 911 because the crew has to create a studio in someone's home. The lighting alone takes about three to four hours.

When Florence shows up at someone's house, he has his own set of knives but tries as much as possible to use the homeowners' equipment. He wants them to be able to reproduce the recipe after he's gone.

"To come in there with All-Clad is not really fair to that person because when we walk out they won't have that pot or pan."

The Food 911 staff has a network of food stylists who shop for ingredients. The recipes are Florence's.

The recipes made on Food 911 may be the kind of food Florence grew up on, but they don't represent the kind of chef he is today, he says.

"My style is a little more high tech than that. But as far as food that's camera worthy for America, something that you can understand, you really have to make things that are simple.

"Chicken and dumplings, for example, is an American classic. What that lady had been making versus what we ended up with are two different things. What we ended up with was a really rich chicken broth flavored with vegetables and fresh rosemary and some pillow dumplings that were dynamite."

It takes about four months to shoot a full season of Food 911, and two seasons are shot per year, which leaves Florence time for other projects such as the Food Network special he taped earlier this month in Alaska, Dining on Deck, which will air next year.

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