A Pinch of Summer
Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence Comes Out Of His Shell
Story by: Erika Vidal Holmes
Tyler Florence exits the hotel lobby elevator wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sunglasses. Two shirts on hangers trail behind him; one a long- sleeved button-up, and the other a T-shirt. He’s quick to tell us what they both have in common.
“They’re blue,” he says. He chose them especially for today’s cover shoot.
Though Florence grew up in Greenville, S.C., there’s no trace of a Southern drawl. Still, if you examine his culinary repertoire over the last 20-plus years, you’ll find that comfort food is prevalent. Today, the ingredient of choice is blue crab, a food staple of both the Carolinas and Florida that is synonymous with water, summer, and of course, the name of our publication.
Florence is in town for the launch of his TY-ClAD Hard Anodized Cookware on Home Shopping Network, and he has a few hours before his next live shoot.
So I ask him: “How do you feel about getting your feet wet today?” “That’s awesome,” he says.
Before we know it, Florence and his designer clothes are waist deep in the gulf waters holding a crate of blue crabs. Afterward, the renowned chef, TV star and author sat down for a chat.
EVH: What would you say are the top five must-have ingredients for summer?
TF: A really good bottle of extra virgin olive oil. The biggest basil bush you can find. I always try to plant that because if it gets a lot of sunlight and a lot of water, it really grows like crazy. I would say fresh lemons, a grill, and, directions to your farmers market.
EVH: I find that if I buy basil and other herbs pre-cut at the store, it starts to go bad in about three or four days.
TF: I’ve got a really good tip for that. When you buy that kind of thing, you really have to take it home and treat it like fresh-cut flowers. Trim that and stick that whole thing into a big glass of ice water, and stick that in the fridge and you’ll actually get another week, week and a half from it.
EVH: What’s a typical summer meal you would prepare at home?
TF: I love my grill. I’ve got a Cadillac of a grill. What I like to do is think about things that I can grill, because it’s fast, it’s got a great flavor, you’re cooking outside. My son loves it. What I like to do is find the best cuts of meat possible and just hit it with salt and pepper. I know it sounds simplistic, but if it’s a really good quality cut of meat, the natural flavors will really shine through instead of just dumping a bunch of marinade on top of it. Also, when you’re grilling outside, one good tip is to make sure you put (the meat) on a piece of paper towel and dry it off really really well. If you put that wet steak on the grill, the water content is going to heat up and you’ll steam the meat before you caramelize the meat. And steaming doesn’t really add any flavor; caramelization of the protein is where all taste is. You’ll have 10 times better flavor results.
EVH: Is your grill gas or charcoal?
TF: My grill is gas but it comes with a wood box, so I like to not only grill things but throw some wet wood chips into the box itself and have a grilled smoked flavor.
EVH: Any flavor of wood chip in particular?
TF: I like to mix it up a little bit. I think apple is really nice. I think hickory chips can be a little strong for me.
EVH: What’s your ideal lazy summer day?
TF: Well, they’re few and far between. That being said, the days are always ideal, they’re just not necessarily lazy. On the weekends we’ll sleep late, and because we have very small children they always get up at 6:45 a.m. anyway, so we just try to make the day count. The act of actually cooking in front of your children and letting them smell the house—when there’s something wonderful coming out of the kitchen. I think it’s very important for them to sit down and enjoy a meal as a group so we can actually look each other in the eye and communicate and talk. We almost gotta plan the whole day one meal at a time. We’ll get up and have breakfast and at breakfast we’ll talk about what we’re having for lunch, and at lunch we’ll wrap that up and make plans for dinner.
EVH: What’s your beach personality? Would you rather relax with a good book or get in a game of beach volleyball?
TF: I don’t really like to lie in the sun too much because I get bored out of my mind. I’d much rather play volleyball or actually just go rent a jet ski.
EVH: When flying, what’s one thing you absolutely have to have in your carry-on bag?
TF: I’d say my iPod for sure. What I like to do is instead of listen to music, I always catch up on world events. I plug my iPod into my computer and download pod casts of shows I like a lot and I’ll just catch up.
EVH: Iced tea, sweet or unsweetened?
TF: Unsweetened. I grew up in the South so I can say that with confidence. I’m not trying to be elitist. It gets so sweet it kind of takes the quenching element out of the tea. I think it tastes better without the sugar.
EVH: What are three things that are always in your fridge?
TF: Really good raspberry jam. I’m a freak for raspberry jam. Toast—hot crispy wheat toast with a smear of room temperature butter and cold jam on top of that. That’s my breakfast. That’s fantastic. We have a vegetable drawer full of organic vegetables. And then, the last thing would have to be Chinese takeout. Leftover containers of sesame chicken.
EVH: Best way to enjoy blue crab in your opinion?
TF: The idea of cracking open freshly cooked crab always seems really romantic to me, but it’s a gigantic amount of work for what you get. I always think that if you buy it picked and cleaned already from a really good source, that’s when you can have a really good time with it. That’s when you can make a crab cake, or a really beautiful blue crab soup. To me, that’s pretty fantastic. I love the shells because you can make a beautiful froth. The silky texture of the back fin—the thick, chunky part—that’s about as sexy a flavor as any I’ve ever tasted. You can do crab so many different ways. You can take on an Asian flavor profile by putting soy sauce, a little bit of brown sugar, a splash of rice wine vinegar, a little bit of olive oil and either fresh lemon juice or lime juice. Give that a stir and then take some diced up mango, cucumber, fresh basil or fresh Thai basil if you can get it, then the crab. Toss it together. It’s a fantastic combination.
EVH: If you could cook a meal for anyone in the world, who would it be?
TF: We cook for so many people. We just fed 3,000 people at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. I cook for just about everybody I’d ever want to cook for all the time anyway. It’s more about having a connection with real people versus trying to have a connection with a celebrity. You get honest enthusiasm, and people that really care, and people who want to cook themselves.
ZUCCHINI CRAB FRITTERS WITH GRAPEFRUIT AIOLI
Recipe Courtesy of Tyler Florence
YIELD: serves 4-6 | Time: 50 minutes
2 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandolin
1lb fresh lump crabmeat
1 egg white
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten 2 cups
panko bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
Begin by slicing the zucchini on a mandolin so you have long thin strips. Lay out in a single layer on a tray lined with a kitchen towel. Sprinkle salt on the strips and set aside to allow the moisture to be drawn out and make the strips pliable.
Prepare the crab. Drain the crab of any excess moisture then combine with egg white in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Take the strips of zucchini and place a spoonful of mixture on top. Roll it up and place seam side down so it sticks and continue until you have used up all the crab.
Set up a breading station and coat the fritters in seasoned flour, then egg and finally seasoned panko. Set aside in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to let the coating set. Fry in 350 F oil until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
Prepare grapefruit aioli. Add grapefruit juice and 1 teaspoon of grapefruit zest to a small saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Shut off heat and cool. In a blender, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and grapefruit reduction. Serve with warm fritters.
CUCUMBER, CRAB, MANGO & JICAMA SALAD
Recipe Courtesy of Tyler Florence
YIELD: serves 4-6 | Time: 10-12 minutes
1 pound picked lump crab meat
1 medium (approx. 1 pound) jicama, peeled and cut into 2” wedges
2 small cucumbers, cut into 2” wedges
3 medium mangoes, cut into 2” wedges
4 small radishes, finely shaved
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
juice of 2 limes
extra-virgin olive oil
fried shallots, for garnish
cilantro leaves, for garnish
Peel and cut the jicama into 2” long wedges (the size of a large oven fry). Slice the cucumbers in half, scoop out the seeds and then cut into wedges so that they are similar in size to the jicama. Peel the mangoes and cut the cheeks off and then slice into wedges. Finely shave the radishes. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and squeeze over lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Add the chopped cilantro, powdered chile and toss well to coat. When ready to serve, season with a little salt, some extra cayenne powder and top with fresh lump crab meat. Garnish with a handful of fresh cilantro leaves and fried shallots.
2 medium shallots, finely shaved
2 tablespoons flour
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oil in a small saucepan. Combine salt and pepper with flour and mix to combine. Toss in shallots and toss to coat. Shake off excess flour and fry shallots until golden and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and drain on a paper towel.