Sister Nosh, Tyler, and Me.  We only got one blurry photo but I think you get the gist!

Okay, so Tyler Tuesdays probably isn’t a recurring thing (a girl can dream, right?), but I dug the alliteration.

If you follow the Big Apple Nosh Facebook page, you’ll know that I was recently approached to interview Tyler Florence.  I was able to play it cool for approximately zero seconds before responding OMG YES.  For me, chefs and those in the food world are my ultimate celebrities, so I was totally psyched!  I took Sister Nosh with me, who is also a bit of a Tyler fan, to put things lightly.

Tyler was in town for the NYC Wine & Food Festival (which was amazing; I can’t wait to recap it all for you!) as well as traveling around with the  Stouffer’s Mac n’ Cheese food truck program.   As you may know, Tyler is host of The Great Food Truck Race, so he is the perfect partner for the Stouffer’s Mac n’ Cheese truck, which is traveling around the country to select high school football games to offer a “taste of home” with mac n’ cheeeese! (As an aside, I see that Tyler and the truck visited a town a few over from my hometown in NJ – fun!).  In addition to providing fans and community members with free mac n’ cheese, they are also donating $5,000 to each participating high school in support of academics and athletics.  Pretty cool all around!  It was really fun to talk to him about his work with Stouffer’s and the truck, his favorite mac n’ cheese add-ins, what comfort food means to him, and his thoughts on social media.  Here are some highlights:

Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with the Stouffer’s Mac n’ Cheese Truck.

Stouffer’s is putting together this really interesting campaign, which I think is smart.  It blossomed from this edgy, urban food truck scene – companies are taking this as a really good opportunity to get their message out and take concepts to the people.  With this Stouffer’s Mac N’ Cheese truck, we are visiting a bunch of high schools across the US and as well as making financial contributions to these schools that they can use toward academics and sports.  At the same time, there is yummy macaroni and cheese – so it’s kind of a win-win for everybody.

What do you do to make mac n’ cheese special?

To me, macaroni and cheese was one of the first foods that I remember cooking and actually manipulating with add-ins.  I have a soft spot for the Stouffer’s brand – I remember my dad would fill the freezer with Stouffer’s mac n’ cheese.  And as a young chef, at 12 or 13 years old, I would add things to it such as yummy vegetables and pesto, or meatballs so it felt like one of my signature dishes.  I just think it’s so much more than just a side dish – there are so many things you can add to it to create a full entree that you know your kids are going to like.

Other than mac and cheese, what’s your go-to comfort food?

Comfort is this happy trigger that goes off in your head, that reminds you of something familiar, or tastes really great.  I always say that the high art of cooking is creating a high definition channel between your tongue and your brain – so everything has to be very purposeful.  Have you seen the movie Ratatouille? The best example of this is when the food critic, Antoine Ego, tastes Remy the rat’s ratatouille and all of a sudden is goes back to his days as a small child eating ratatouille, and he felt very comforted by that.  That, to me, is what comfort food is – the expression and happy place that well-executed food sends you to.  That is what every bite of food should do to everybody.

What I’m into right now – definitely into vegetables.  We’re in Northern California so we get great produce.  But there’s a difference between mid-week cooking and weekend cooking, with my wife and I both working 80 hours a week and with 3 kids.  On the weekend, it is much more relaxed – we go to the farmer’s market and do our shopping there. I love food that tells you what time of year it is. So definitely vegetables, braises,things like that, versus summer cooking where I focus on foods like lobster and basil and olive oil.

What are some new things that you are currently working on?

My life has always been like an open cookbook – I’m going into my seventeeth year on television.  But there are always fresh new stories and experiences I’m working on.  For example, we started raising our own cattle.  There’s a big understanding of what grass-fed beef is from a health standpoint and an ecological standpoint – healthy cows, healthy consumption, healthy for you.  But there’s arguably a flavor difference between something that is bred to put on fat versus grass-fed beef that is not necessarily being finished on a grain-based diet.  So we are working on a new kind of grass-fed program with Holstein cows, usually bred and developed to be dairy cows, that actually produces some beautiful intramuscular fat development that is just stunning.   We have been working on this for about three years now and are really excited about the results.  (NoshGirl note: Tyler did a demo at the NYC Wine & Food Festival about this called “Black Ops Beef”!)

Now that you’re based on the West Coast, what are some of the go-to things you have to have when you visit New York?

One of my dearest and oldest friends in the world has a restaurant called Peasant – it has been open for 10 years.  The Chef, Frank De Carlo, is such a fluid cook.  So I always need to stop there.  Definitely Balthazar to feed my soul. 

Additionally, I’m always interested in trying new stuff and up-and-coming chefs – and I think this is where social media now is so fascinating.  Social media allows young chefs to gain so much more access to relevant knowledge earlier in their career, through things like Instagram.  Ten years ago, if you wanted to experience a chef’s food, you had to get on the plane, fly to that city, get a hotel room, get a reservation, eat his dinner – it’s expensive.  If you’re a young cook you can’t really afford that kind of thing. Or you perhaps could have read about them in a big magazine but that accessibility wasn’t there.  Now with social media, you can see what these guys are planning for their specials that night and emulate what they’re doing.  So now these young chefs are able to develop a level of fluency and vocabulary much earlier.  You may lose a bit of that life experience – but if you’re a really good cook, and I go to your restaurant and have a solid experience and you deliver, I don’t care who you worked for before.  I care about what your perspective is, and I’d love to see you put some awesome food on the plate.  There’s so much great visual information that’s flying back and forth at the speed of thought, via social media. 

What is one tip you have for the at-home cook?

I think it’s really important when people cook at home to do a good job of keeping the fridge edited – if your open up the fridge and it’s packed with stuff you don’t really need, what you end up with is a full-looking fridge but nothing to really cook with.  So I think it’s helpful that once a month, you go through your fridge, edit it down and consolidate it – eat it, use it, get rid of it.  What you’re left with is not an empty fridge but an opportunity to create something really cool and send you off on a fun little journey to go to the store and grab some stuff.  I always recommend getting a couple of books – find someone whose food really appeals to your palate and speaks your language, dive into what they’re working on.

It was so fun to meet Tyler and pick his brain on what he was working on – especially since his schedule seemed quite packed with Stouffer’s and NYC Wine & Food events!  He was accessible, down-to-earth, and just an all-around nice guy. I hope you enjoyed reading my interview with him as much as I enjoyed conducting it! 🙂