For a long time, if you asked me what I thought of Tyler Florence, I would have just said, "Meh. I watch him sometimes." I just didn't think he had much going for him. I didn't see anything wrong with his food, his skills, or his shows, but I was never really impressed with them either.
Tyler Florence is no showman. Many FN personalities are indeed performers. Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, and to a lesser extent, Mario Batali are all showmen. They know how to work the cameras and put themselves out there. They could probably succeed on TV without the food. TV cooks don't have to be performers of course. The lamented Sara Moulton and Ina Garten aren't performers and they don't have to be. They are also wise enough to stick to their own sphere of the kitchen. Giada DeLaurentis and Rachael Ray aren't so wise. Giada is fine in the kitchen, but she needs to stop doing travel shows or other documentary-style shows. As for Rachael Ray, she's horrible on camera, but compensates by being annoying and obnoxious. She's bad enough on her cooking show, but her talk show is a train wreck. She yells, waves her arms, and talks over her guests. She's so focused on herself that I swear she suffers from Narcissictic Personality Disorder. Ingrid Hoffman seems to have good performance chops, but she can't combine them with her cooking. I don't really care if the cooks on TV are showmen or not. The problem is that a bad showman (like Rachael Ray) can make me tear my hair out, and the bland ones don't always get my attention. That was the problem with Tyler Florence. He never really got my attention.
Tyler's other flaw, as I saw it, was a lack of focus. I would watch his shows and think, "What is his specialty?" Giada is Italian-American cuisine. Mario is regional Italian cuisine. Emeril is Creole. Paula Deen is Southeast. Bobby Flay is Southwest. What exactly is Tyler? I kept asking, "Does he have something in particular that he does well? What can he do that other chefs can't?" There wasn't a whole lot to distinguish him from the likes of Sara Moulton or Ina Garten.
I kept watching his shows though. He may not have always had my attention, but he never annoyed me either. He seemed most at home giving one-on-one instruction. If he had any schtick at all, it was that he was like a "cooking coach". I kind of preferred the snooty French guy in How to Boil Water (I just liked the idea of two very different personalities working together in the kitchen), but Tyler handled it well enough. I thought it was a good show because it taught basic cooking skills without talking down to the audience and without making real cooking seem too difficult. I always thought the approach was far better for beginner cooks than the 30 Minute Meals approach of dumbing down every recipe into burger form. He applied the same coach technique to his Food 911 show. It was during Food 911 that I really began to apprciated him. He was faced with so many different types of cuisines on that show. For a jack-of-all-trades chef, he competently handled all of them.
One day on Food 911 the requested recipe was jerk chicken . I love spicy Carribean food. I had to hang around and watch this one. The recipe he provided was Jerk Chicken with Roasted Mango and Habaneros. As I watched him go through the steps of preparing it, I knew I had to try it. The recipe was unique and filled with complex flavors. I made it for my mother's birthday dinner a couple of weeks later. The dish was every bit as delicious as it looked on TV and was a huge hit. It's a bit expensive to make, but it's worth every penny. Once I tasted this recipe I realized that Tyler Florence is an excellent chef.
I made it again last night. Unfortunately I was unable to marinate the chicken as long as I wanted to. I put the chicken and marinade in a plastic bag and had it in the refrigerator for about an hour and fiften minutes. The flavor didn't suffer too much. When my husband came home from work he said he could smell it all the way down the hall. I served it alongside Island Red Beans, a recipe I found in the latest issue of Eating Well and a nice cooling salad of oranges and avocados tossed with a lime-orange vinaigrette.
It doesn't look like they currently have new shows running for Tyler Florence other than the current incarnation of Tyler's Ultimate. I have an appreciation for that show now. The show is very well edited. Rather than make the show about Tyler and his personality, it is really shot to make the food stand out. I understand what Tyler does now. He just wants to make sure that people have the basic skills to make the classic version of anything. Maybe he isn't going to delve in obscure dishes in regional cuisines, but he has good solid foundations that can make just about any popular dish in a given cuisine. When I needed a shrimp scampi recipe for a dinner party, I went to Tyler. When I needed a better chicken marsala recipe, I went to Tyler. Look at his online recipe collection and you'll see he has everything from chicken cordon blue, to gazpacho, to fish and chips. I would bet most of those recipes are great. He's a chef you can rely on to help you understand how to make something and make it well. If you don't totally love the recipe, he gives a foundation to help you make your own version.
I have now officially converted. I love Tyler Florence.