Escoffier Questionnaire: Tyler Florence

Photography By John Lee | December 01, 2012
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Tyler Florence

Chef: Tyler Florence
Restaurants: Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco; El Paseo, Mill Valley; Tyler Florence Fresh, San Francisco International Airport

What was your favorite food as a kid?
I grew up in South Carolina and anytime we got to go out for dinner I remember fried oysters and shrimp always being such a special treat.

What was the first meal you made that you were proud of?
I remember being able to make a really great grilled cheese when I was younger for all of the kids in the neighborhood.

What two adjectives describe your cuisine?
Fresh and clean

What book most influences your food, cookbook or otherwise?
Following chefs and their food on Instagram has become one of my new favorite things to do. It’s ever-changing and I can see what chefs are making all over the world. It’s very inspiring. In terms of cookbooks—I have hundreds of them and could never pick just one.

What chef do you most admire?
I love Jonathan Waxman—he is so talented, such a mentor to so many chefs, and someone that I truly admire. He has failed, succeeded, opened and closed restaurants and he is always so open and available to help guide you along the way. He gave me great advice when I opened my first place in San Francisco and makes the best roasted chicken I have ever eaten in my life.

What is your favorite ingredient?
Smoked olive oil from Brenda and Al at The Smoked Olive

What music do you like to hear when you cook?
Lately I’ve been listening to my father-in-law’s new jazz album.

What is your favorite hangover meal?
Soft scrambled eggs, toast and avocado, with a lot of espresso and coconut water

What is your favorite midnight snack?
For sure, without a doubt: cereal. I love whatever cereal is around the house—Panda Puffs, Cheerios, granola with lots of fresh berries and soy milk.

What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?
Well, El Bulli in Spain was on my bucket list until last summer. My dear friend Bill Higgins and I hopped on a plane with our wives and made it to one of the last dinners at El Bulli before they closed. It was epic, it lasted for hours and it was inspiring. I think that the next place that’s on my list is Noma by Rene Redzepi in Copenhagen.

What kitchen utensil is most indispensable to you?
I always have to have a very sharp knife. When I travel or cook on the road, I always travel with my knives.

Whom do you most like to cook for?
My family, obviously, but maybe most specifically my mother-in-law, Marge. She herself is an amazing home cook so I always love to make new things for her because if it’s good she will go on and on about it for days and if it’s just OK—she’ll tell me right there on the spot. Last weekend I made her a dish out of sea urchin and she wrinkled her nose, and said “not so much.”

If you could do one other job, what would it be?
I’d love to be an activist and champion important causes.

What do you most value in a sous-chef?
This is something we talk about all the time. I look for a sous-chef that has what we internally call “the WTF button.” They have to have the ability to put an excellent dish out time after time, night after night, and the moment an herb doesn’t look fresh or someone on the line is skipping a step they need to be able to press the WTF button and say “This isn’t good enough, you skipped a step, don’t get lazy.” I think that’s an important quality in a sous-chef, truly.

What food trend would you most like to erase from the annals of history?
Overly processed fast foods.

What one food would you take with you on a desert island?
A huge bowl of my wife, Tolan’s, beef stroganoff with warm buttered egg noodles. It was her grandmother’s recipe and one of my favorite things in the world to eat. Our entire family loves it.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure treat?
I love truffles. As soon as they come into season, I get really excited and want to have them on everything. Eggs, pasta, macaroni ’n’ cheese, and then get them on the menus at both of the restaurants. It’s what my wife gives me for Christmas every year—she has a guy in Italy and he sends them FedEx just in time for our holiday dinner.

What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I must admit that I do enjoy an IT’S-IT ice cream sandwich every now and then. We keep a supply of them in our freezer for the kids, but I find the mint and coffee ones to be pretty delicious.

What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?
Fried chicken

Cheeseburger or foie gras?
A Bernaise burger at El Paseo or the cheeseburger at Wayfare Tavern with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese

What’s your favorite place to go for (and what is your favorite thing to order) for ...

... happy hour? I tend to be at the restaurants getting ready for service during happy hour. I can’t recall the last place I went for happy hour—unless it was a weekend afternoon at The Cantina eating with my kids.

... a splurge meal? The French Laundry (Yountville), Gary Danko or Boulevard (both in San Francisco)

... breakfast? Toast (Mill Valley)

... pastry? Beth’s Community Bakery (Mill Valley) or Sweet Things (Tiburon)

... a late-night/after-work meal?
In Marin: Bungalow 44, Sushi Ran, D’Angelo’s, Vasco or Mill Valley Beerworks.
In SF: Park Tavern, Cotogna, Flour + Water

... a cup of coffee? Peet’s, always, I don’t go anywhere else. I have to have my Peet’s.

... a greasy-spoon meal? Fremont Diner in Sonoma. They have a dish called the Kitchen Sink—it’s eggs, biscuits, gravy, ham, everything all thrown together and delicious when you need that kind of fix.

... groceries? Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market and Paradise Foods

... kitchen equipment? I have the luxury of my own kitchen shop in downtown Mill Valley. It comes in handy, for sure. I have probably run down and unlocked the shop for myself or friends on Thanksgiving and Christmas every year since we’ve been open. I’m thinking of opening for a few hours each holiday morning just for the last-minute kitchen equipment emergencies that come up.

... ice cream? My wife and her brothers grew up going to Woody’s in Mill Valley’s Strawberry Village as kids, so we find ourselves there a lot, or Noci’s for gelato in downtown Mill Valley.

... chocolate? TCHO chocolate (San Fran- cisco) makes a custom blend of chocolate that we use at our restaurants and the work they do with chocolate is pretty fascinating and delicious.

And lastly but not leastly ... what is your favorite local wine or beer for the season? Because I have been making wine with the Mondavi Family for the past few years, I tend to drink a lot of my own juice. We make it in Napa. You can buy it downtown Mill Valley at Vintage Wine & Spirits and The Mill Valley Market or online—TylerFlorenceWines. com—and they’ll ship you as much wine as you want for $5 shipping. As far as beer goes, I like to drink whatever beer they’re brewing at Mill Valley Beer- works. They have some very interesting ingredients and techniques that they use there.

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