The untold truth of Tyler Florence

Viewers of the Food Network have gotten to know chef Tyler Florence very well over the years. In fact, the South Carolina native has been a near-constant presence on the network since the late 1990s, notes his Food Network bio, initially making guest appearances in various shows until being tapped to host Food 911. His hosting abilities shone through, and further Food Network series followed, including Tyler's Ultimate, Planet Food, All American Festivals, How to Boil Waterand My Country, My Kitchen

After graduating from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, he moved to NYC in 1992 to train under some of the city's most renowned chefs. That training led him to be hired as executive chef at Cibo in 1995, earning accolades for his inventive cuisine. Florence struck out on his own in 1998, opening the Manhattan eatery Cafeteria, where he served as executive chef and earned a nomination for "Best New Restaurant" from Time Out New York.

A longtime fan favorite of Food Network viewers, there's a lot about this talented chef and affable television personality that viewers may not realize. Keep reading to discover the untold truth of Tyler Florence.

Tyler Florence opened a restaurant with a former Van Halen frontman

In 2009, Tyler Florence joined forces with one-time Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar to open a new eatery in Mill Valley, California. According to SF Gate, the duo took over the space of El Paseo, a high-end eatery that had shuttered a few years before. "It was a French restaurant with a Spanish name owned by a Japanese company," said Florence. "It was a bit of a disconnect here."

Unfortunately, the partnership between celebrity chef and rock star didn't last. In Hagar's 2015 "cooking and partying handbook" Are We Having Fun Yet?, excerpted by Paste magazine, Hagar writes of bringing Florence in as executive chef and realizing the fit was not good. "Tyler wanted to make it pretty much a steakhouse with a small market inside and big cuts of meat hanging in the windows," wrote Hagar. "I told him, 'Hey, man, I've been living in this town since '72. That kind of thing doesn't really fit Mill Valley." Hagar also complained that Florence "seemed more interested in being a celebrity than in being a chef."

The two ultimately parted ways, reported SFist, with Hagar enlisting a new chef and revamping the menu.

Tyler Florence was dean of culinary education at Napa's American Center for Wine

A 2008 SF Gate profile on Tyler Florence revealed that the Food Network host had recently been hired as dean of culinary education at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa. There was, however, a lot more behind his new role than met the eye.

Copia, an ambitious museum-like institute devoted to showcasing the region's food and wine, had been bleeding money ever since it opened in 2001. SF Eater reported in July 2008 that Copia was $14 million in debt, with the announcement of Florence's new role in September of that year — which included creating "online food and wine content" — viewed as a desperation move hoping to capitalize on Florence's fame and bolster the "flailing" operation. 

Before Florence even had a chance to get going, Copia shut its doors. As The New York Times reported, Copia filed for bankruptcy just three months after Florence was brought onboard. As a Napa resident told the Times, Copia was seen as too upscale and was never really embraced by locals, who viewed it as "a place for food and wine snobs."

Andrew Zimmern dissed Tyler Florence in a big way

Tyler Florence is one of the Food Network's most popular personalities, but it's safe to say Andrew Zimmern is not a fan. In a since-deleted 2009 blog post, reported E! News, the Bizarre Foods host wrote of watching an episode of short-lived reality show Momma's Boys that "featured the world's least talented TV chef, Tyler Florence, once again churning out the questionable cooking advice and leading the ladies through a menu of the mom's fave recipes." Added Zimmern: "Watching Florence wolf down the food, stare and ogle every ass that strolled by his cutting board and play the role of local TV stud was high comedy of the highest order."

Florence fired back, blasting "the guy who eats dried camel c**k for a living." In a likewise-deleted Facebook post, Florence slammed Zimmern's decision to "dis my life's work" just because he appeared on the show as a favor to friend Ryan Seacrest, exec producer of Momma's Boys. "I guess it's hard to have a sense of humor when you're on your 10th take of eating Yak testicles, smiling to the camera, wondering where your life went wrong," Florence concluded.

How Tyler Florence helped drive the food-truck craze

In 2010, Tyler Florence was tapped to host Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race, in which the owners of rival food trucks compete in a series of culinary challenges. At the time the show launched, food trucks were seen as a quirky novelty; in the years since, however, the concept of a four-wheeled restaurant has hit the mainstream.

Florence believes his show can take some credit for the explosion of food trucks' popularity during the past decade. "I don't know if there's been a show that's had a bigger impact on a pure disruption level, in that it's helped invent an entirely new genre of restaurants," he told the Daily Meal

As Florence pointed out, back in 2010 people would tell him "there was no way they'd eat from a 'roach coach.' Think about how far we've come since then." He shared similar thoughts with the Daily Meal. "Folks initially were telling me that they just didn't understand; why would we want to do a show about the trucks that are near construction sites?" he said. "But we've seen it become a huge trend, and a great way to celebrate local entrepreneurs."

Tyler Florence once cooked for President Obama

It's not every celebrity chef who's invited to cook a meal for the president of the United States, but that's precisely what Tyler Florence experienced in 2012 when he was asked to create the menu for an exclusive fundraiser for President Barack Obama and about 80 guests, which took place in Tampa, Florida.

According to SF Gate, the $20,000-per-plate event was held at the home of Lisa DeBartolo and Don Miggs, who are said to be close to Florence and his wife, Tolan. Also on hand was Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, who reportedly performed a four-song acoustic set.

The Obama Foodarama blog (via Daily Meal) utilized tweets from the event to compile a look at Florence's menu for the fundraiser. Among the dishes served were: a ravioli made with squash and quail egg served with Hen of the Woods mushrooms; chicken-fried quail accented with key limes; crispy fried pork belly served with celery, walnuts and banana mustard; and, for dessert, coconut shortbread with a key lime and parsley curd, along with a vanilla lime pavlova.

Tyler Florence set a Guinness World Record

In addition to being a renowned chef and popular television personality, Tyler Florence also set a record that landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

As The Guardian reported, he and a team of grillers set a new record for "Longest Team Barbecue Marathonin 2015, hosted by the Ball Park hot dog brand. Florence and his fellow grillmasters grilled dogs for 34 hours and 35 minutes, cooking up hot dogs that were fed to passersby throughout the day. Other food prepared at the event was donated to a New York City charity that helps feed the hungry. The crew beat the previous record of 30 hours, set by Barry Croxall and Dave Skeldon in the U.K.

In an interview with Parade, Florence shared the secret that may have allowed him to stay wide-awake and grilling for nearly 35 straight hours: coffee, and lots of it. "I have a high tolerance for coffee and I'm nothing until I have at least two cups of coffee," Florence revealed. "I'm an espresso guy. I order four shots and I would slam two cappuccinos back to back." We're guessing he was knocking back quite a few caffeinated drinks over the course of that event.

Tyler Florence is a watch aficionado

Ever since buying himself a Timex at a South Carolina Kmart when he was 15, with money he earned as a dishwasher, Tyler Florence has been seriously enamored of watches. In a 2012 article for the Hollywood Reporter, Florence revealed that his collection then consisted of 16 watches, including a pricey Panerai Luminor he bought as a celebratory gift after signing his first contract with a network. While Florence insists he's "not a snob" about timepieces, he nonetheless appreciates that an expensive watch is seen as a symbol of status. "Having a power watch is about a quiet sense of strength," he explained. "It makes a statement that says you're successful."

He singled out another reason why watches hold such deep appeal for him. "I think things that are more difficult to make are to be cherished for their humanity and craftsmanship," he said, comparing a finely crafted watch to a premium kitchen tool. "I have the same affection for chef's knives that are well engineered," he said.

Tyler Florence's signature dish reflects his Southern roots

Growing up in South Carolina, Southern cooking is deeply embedded in Tyler Florence's DNA. In fact, he credits his grandparents' old-school food sensibilities for teaching him the basics. "Going to see my grandparents was like going back 50 years," he told Charleston Magazine, "Every weekend was a history lesson in Southern food." Even with all his culinary training with some of Manhattan's top chefs, Florence admitted that Southern cooking remains his specialty. "I cut my teeth on Southern food," he declared.

Asked by the magazine what his favorite Southern dish is, he divulged "without hesitation" that it's fried chicken. Fried chicken, in fact, remains Florence's signature dish; as the Houston Chronicle noted, Florence declared in a 2015 Instagram post that his San Francisco restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, had sold 148 orders of fried chicken on a single Wednesday. The secret behind his chicken, he told the Chronicle, was to first cook the meat via sous vide, but shared a home hack that involves slow-roasting the entire bird at 200 degrees, then chopping it into pieces. The chicken is then soaked in buttermilk and dredged in seasoned flour before it's fried.

Tyler Florence revealed his favorite restaurants throughout the world

As a curious, inventive chef, Tyler Florence relishes the opportunity to dine in unfamiliar restaurants and explore regional cuisine, especially when he travels. Speaking with the Daily Meal, he listed some of his favorite eateries, both in the United States and overseas. In Europe, he recommended Chez L'ami Louis in Paris. "You walk in and you walk into a time warp of a restaurant," he explained. "It is French bistro and the food is fantastic." Another international favorite is London's River Cafe. "The room is great and the vibe and the energy is fantastic," he shared, recalling his last meal there as "tagliatelle with stinging nettles."

Stateside, he pointed to 15 East Restaurant and Balthazar in New York City, along with Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. He loves the pizza there so much, he confessed, he once rented a town car to drive from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and "spent $173 to go out to Di Fara's to have a slice and come back."

Also on the list: his own Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. "Every time I walk in Wayfare Tavern I fall in love with my restaurant all over again," he declared.

How Tyler Florence rebounded after his career seemed to be over

In the mid-2000s, Tyler Florence was focused on building his empire. He and his family had recently moved from New York City to San Francisco, his star continued to rise on the Food Network and his restaurants were seeing increasing success. Then, in the latter half of the 2000s, came the recession. "The world fell apart," he told Associated Press of that challenging time. "We'd just moved to California and the economy collapsed... Food Network canceled two of my seasons because they literally didn't have the ad money to pay for it."

In addition, all of his lucrative public appearances "dried up over night," sending Florence scrambling. "I was like, 'Wow! I don't think this stream of water will ever run out.' And when it did, I was really terrified."

When the economy improved, he slowly built his businesses back up and took the opportunity to reinvent himself by opening a retail outlet, the Tyler Florence Shop. "Everything else I've done my entire life was defined by the Food Network," he said of his successful venture. "The retail store was the first time I showed what I was thinking."

Tyler Florence believes if you're not failing you're not trying hard enough

It's often been said that failure is encountered on the road to success, and Tyler Florence is a firm believer in that philosophy. "If you're not failing you're not trying hard enough," Florence told Ladders. While he admitted it's not a particularly original notion, he pointed to the truism that "if you're not really trying to make strides into the unknown you're not breaking ground. You're not doing anything innovative. You are mimicking something you've seen or read."

Florence has learned that lesson from personal experience. After being slammed hard by the recession in the late 2000s, Florence was able to rebuild his empire and rebound by using the same principles that brought him success in the first place — one of which is accepting failure as a natural component of success. "I think it's important for everyone to feel failure," he told Associated Press. "I wouldn't trade any stupid decision for another five years of life."

Tyler Florence directed a documentary about California wildfires

A longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Tyler Florence experienced the devastating wildfires that swept through Northern California's wine-producing Napa region, displacing numerous people who lost their homes and possessions to the fires. All told, reported Mother Jones, the fires scorched more than 250 square miles, resulted in 42 deaths, the destruction of 8,400 structures, and more than $1 billion in damage.

Florence responded by creating a documentary about the wildfires and the ensuing fallout, making his directorial debut with the 2018 film Uncrushable. The film tells the story of the disaster as seen through the eyes of those who survived it, following the saga long after the TV news crews moved on, leaving residents pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

As Florence told Wine SpectatorUncrushable was filmed in a three-week period while the wildfires were still raging. "The entire story just started to unfold in front of us; it was thoughtful, and it was scary, and it was human, and it was real," Florence said. "I think it's my best work."

Tyler Florence loves his adopted home of California

Tyler Florence draws from his Southern heritage to create his distinctive cuisine, but he's definitely embraced the California lifestyle since making the move to the San Francisco Bay Area. Speaking with the Visit California tourism website, Florence admitted there is "so much to love" about his adopted home. From a culinary perspective, he pointed out that "the local produce we get in our restaurants is second to none in the country... I feel lucky to get to cook with it every day."

Florence is also a wine aficionado who produces vino under his own Tyler Florence label. This, he revealed, has left him with an affinity for "the rolling hills of Sonoma," noting that the region's "microclimates produce so many different variations of fruit."

When it came to honing in on the single thing he loves most about the state, Florence pointed to the winding coastline of Northern California. "Riding my motorcycle up old Highway 1 in western Marin County melts my heart," he shared.