Celeb chef Tyler Florence knows no culinary boundaries. He’s drawn big audiences with Food Network shows such as “How to Boil Water” and “Tyler’s Ultimate.” But with a Florentine empire including his signature San Fran restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, and a line of organic baby food, the spirited, all-American chef isn’t tied to his cooktop. Now, he’s taking the cucina on the road as host of Food Network’s new show “The Great Food Truck Race,” a competition that pits the staffs of culinary carts against each other in different cities each week. The team that rings up the highest dollar amount of burgers, crepes or whatever advances to the next round; losers truck home without the $50,000 prize. And with these chow mobiles doling out everything from Vietnamese sandwiches to Cajun shrimp, audiences can see that food on four wheels has rolled way beyond hot dogs. Bite into the show Sundays at 9 p.m.
» EXPRESS: Food trucks have gotten really popular in recent years. Why?
» FLORENCE: You can trace it back to the economy falling apart. There were all these very talented chefs with restaurants closing like crazy, and no one could get a business loan to open up new ones. A lot of very talented chefs had to come up with a creative outlet for the craft. So, they went from four walls to four wheels. They said, “Really, it’s not about where I cook but what I cook.”
» EXPRESS: Are there any limitations cooking in a truck?
» FLORENCE: There are zero limitations. That’s the great thing about the trend. These trucks have very clear, articulated brands. It’s not like these guys are opening up hamburger trucks. They’ve come up with foods that are really phenomenal.
» EXPRESS: Did the cities you visited embrace the food truck trend?
» FLORENCE: I was always blown away by how well cities took to these trucks. We rolled in with 30 cameras, and it was hard not to notice us. It looks like it’s a trend that’s not going anywhere. [Food trucks] may be the next incarnation of restaurants.
» EXPRESS: What’s your kitchen like at home?
» FLORENCE: It’s pretty well stocked. I have an amazing Viking range and fridge. And after that, it’s pretty simple. A kitchen doesn’t have to be super-complicated to crank out good food.
» EXPRESS: You’re a father of three. Is there anything you cook that your children refuse to eat?
» FLORENCE: There are a lot of things I make that my children won’t eat! But I like opening up the menu of life experiences for children at an early age. If you assume that children only like hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza, you’re really shutting them off for a long time to what they will or won’t eat.
If you take command of the house and act like a responsible parent, they’ll realize they may go hungry and say, “You know, maybe this food isn’t so bad.” They’ll enjoy [healthy food] sooner rather than later.
» EXPRESS: Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget?
» FLORENCE: I have a collection of 150 chefs’ knives that I’ve been collecting my whole career. I proudly display them in a custom-made butcher block over my counter.
» EXPRESS: If you could cook one meal for the Obama family, what would it be?
» FLORENCE: I would keep it really simple. I’d pull a lot out of their garden and focus on seasonality. They make an important effort to keep organics in their house. I would definitely cook something northern California-inspired.
Photo courtesy Food Network