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Q&A With Tyler Florence, Host of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race

Tyler, why do you have a chick on your shoulder?(via eater.com)

Tyler Florence, in all his culinary glory, will be at NorthPark’s Williams-Sonoma at noon on December 10 to sign copies of his new book, Fresh, which he says reflects where he is as a person right now. I’m predicting one heck of a line.

You probably know him from his 16 years on the Food Network, or from his seven bestselling cookbooks (this is his ninth book, after his children’s book series). He also has three California restaurants, a line of organic baby food, and a line of wines with Mondavi. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to ask this pro a few questions. Good thing this was a phone interview, so he couldn’t see how much I was geeking out.

SB: I just got my copy of the book last night and immediately started flipping through it. How did this project get started?

TF: To me, the idea of doing something very pure felt appealing this time around. It’s incredibly stripped down – we wanted to branch out and do something different that felt fresh. The first thing I do is lock myself in my office and start writing flavor profiles – make a list, brainstorm stuff, and clarify the concept. Then the recipes are tested. When I’m cooking, I can adjust things easily, but that’s not necessarily true for people at home. They take the recipe as a Bible. Testers give feedback, and we make edits at that point. The content has to be perfect.

SB: Your book is all about the need to get back to fresh ingredients because the American diet is overwhelmed with processed foods. Do you think this issue has become more serious lately?

TF: One of the biggest hurdles right now is health care. We are becoming a very unhealthy nation that’s expensive to care for. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure – all diet. This is a controllable thing. I just want to continue the conversation. I didn’t want to wax on forever, but I want to talk about what “fresh” really means. It’s not a sell-by date, but a philosophy. It’s putting fresh food in the body and treating it as a machine.

SB: This cookbook is organized not by categories like “side dish,” but by ingredient. How do you think that affects the book?

TF: That was a big thing, how we should divide information. Like a menu? By seasonality? I pulled 15 books from the shelf in an editorial meeting, and started reading chapter titles that seemed sort of silly. “Tasty tidbits” doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t use the table of contents when I cook, I use the index. We wanted to increase searchability to get to you to the recipe you want.

SB: There’s one page in the back dedicated to dehydrating. What was the hardest technique to learn when you were starting out?

TF: What can be the trickiest is braising. I think it can be complicated. There’s a searing process. To me, one of the most important techniques I’ve needed to master is a deep-tasting meat braise, and that’s starting with the basics. Any good chef will tell you, “The more I know, the more I don’t know.” That’s why there’s an endless fascination of learning new techniques. You never know it all or learn everything.

SB: You have three kids. Is there anything you can never get them to eat?

TF: I have a 16-year-old, a five-year-old, and a four-year-old. My 16-year-old is a chef’s son. I’ve traveled the world with him. We made a gumbo together for Thanksgiving, which is cool. With the younger kids, we try to bring them into the process of dinner every night. It’s nice when they can cut something or scoop it in a bowl so they are involved in the process. What we’ve done is split the difference a bit by feeding our children roasted vegetables. When broccoli and cabbage are boiled, it makes a sulfuric aroma that’s shocking to kids. Roasted is a different flavor profile. It tastes naturally sweeter. We’ve adopted that technique and had a lot of success with it. My wife and I just make a declaration that we’re in charge. What we put on a plate will be loved or scrutinized, and they think twice about telling you.

SB: Are there any foods that you still dislike? What’s the worst thing you ever ate?

TF: I don’t like bad food. People ask me if I’m picky, but I just want to appreciate what the expectation is. A diner is different from Dean Fearing’s in Dallas. My expectation is different, but I’m excited for both. There’s a murky area in between if food is poorly conceptualized and poorly put together and no one’s paying attention. That, I don’t like. You don’t respect me as a customer because it’s as simple as it could possibly be. When people don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen, that reflects the situation. There’s literally nothing that I don’t like or a flavor profile that doesn’t work. I can make anchovies and peanut butter taste great.

SB: If you were only allowed to use three ingredients from now on, what would you choose?

TF: Quinoa is a South American grain considered to be the same value of gold during the Aztec period in Central America. It’s one of those real, amazing, superfoods that I like a lot.  I’d also have really good extra virgin olive oil. I’d have a chicken coop in my backyard, and when they stop producing eggs, cook the chicken.

SB: Is there going to be a season 4 of The Great Food Truck Race? If so, what would it take for one of our Dallas food trucks to get on the show?

TF: That’s a really good question. We’re meeting at the end of the week about it. When the show is over, we have an end-of-year wrap up/planning session. We’ll start shooting in April. We haven’t pinpointed the root of how we’re getting across the country.

SB: Have you tried any of our Dallas food trucks? What’s your favorite one?

TF: I haven’t been to Dallas in a while, probably in about two years, and my last trip was a very fast, in-and-out trip, so I have not. But here’s the thing: I think food trucks are the new answer to American fast food. The idea of raising two or three million dollars and going through red tape to open a restaurant, there’s lots of barriers to success. There’s a really easy jumping place for food trucks. It’s very hip and acceptable for new chefs to open a food truck first.

Sarah Bennett graduated from Southern Methodist University in May 2011 with a degree in English/Creative Writing. She admits her nerdy passion for historical fiction, and can be found on the weekends cheering on the Mustangs from the Boulevard.