August 30, 2014

Tyler to the Rescue

Food Network fans can't seem to get enough of 33-year-old Tyler Florence, the handsome, affable star of three popular shows: Food 911, Tyler's Ultimate and How to Boil Water. Deliciously down to earth, Florence can salvage any cooking disaster and make simple recipes taste, and look, spectacular. One of the celebrity chefs at this month's Naples Winter Wine Festival, where he'll create a spectacular vintner dinner for a lucky group of guests, the intrepid Florence recently flew into Southwest Florida on a pre-wine festival "rescue" mission, à la Food 911, at our request.

The culinary emergency we concocted? Barbara and Bob Crown wanted to prepare a festive sunset supper for some special friends aboard the Crown Legacy, the couple's 94-foot yacht. The hosts and their guests, who include Dottie ("Mosey") and Don Gunther, who will host Florence's vintner dinner at their home, and broadcast mavens Denise and Brian Cobb, are

founding members and trustees of the popular annual charity wine event; all are world-traveled, seasoned gourmands. Your fans may think you walk on water, we warned Florence, but today

you'll be cooking on water-and you've got only a few hours to float a sensational supper.

In New York, Florence laid out his strategy: a colorful and casual Floribbean feast. Guests would arrive at sunset to nibble canapés on the aft deck and then descend to the dining room for a served dinner.

Here's a play-by-play of the party day. Florence arrives at the Crowns' in the early afternoon, loaded down with groceries. The yacht's galley is tight, time is short and Tyler, working with the yacht's full-time chef, Whitney Stewart, and food stylist Benjamin Wilkinson, has vowed to wow them.

The three move into high gear, slicing, chopping, wrapping, sauteéing and grilling a colorful mélange of ingredients: green papayas, ripe bananas, juicy mangos, fresh stone crabs, knobs of ginger, fragrant bunches of mint and watercress, three different kinds of meat-beef tenderloin, chicken and stone crab. Through it all, Florence bubbles over with conversation and camaraderie.

Soon a magical menu-postcard-tropical and gorgeously garnished with palm fronds, orchids and hibiscus from the Crowns' waterside gardens-awaits the arriving guests. Barbara Crown chooses a lavish white-and-gold set of plateware from the boat's collection (she stocks 10 different patterns on board because the Crowns entertain often). The table is set with seconds to spare, a brilliant yellow orchid adorning each place setting. Champagne cools in silver buckets, and the blender begins whirring up a drink Florence dubs "mojito slushies."

Minutes later, when the first guests cross the gangplank, Florence is there to greet them-fresh, friendly and utterly unfazed by his frenetic afternoon.

Tyler Florence was just 25 and a fast-rising star in Manhattan at such respected restaurants as Aureole and River Cafe when he scored a few TV guest appearances. Audiences immediately responded to his casual demonstration style and easy way of relating to home cooks. Soon executives of the fledging Food Network were offering him shows. Food 911 (now 250 episodes strong) premiered in 1999. Tyler's Ultimate sends Florence to search out the world's most passionate cooks and bring home their best recipes. How to Boil Water offers basic techniques to allay the fear and stress of the novice cook.

The 33-year-old bachelor won't wear the traditional chef's white coat on the air. "It sets up a barrier between me and the audience," he says. "I'm there to have fun and to collaborate with home cooks."

That attitude comes across in his newest cookbook, Eat This Book. "I call the recipes global fresh food," says the author. "It's not complicated fusion cooking, but simple and authentic. The carpaccio that we're serving tonight on the Crown Legacy is from the book."

When he returns to Naples for the festival, Florence-who, like all the visiting chefs and vintners, is donating his talents to support the festival's mission of supporting children's charities-will prepare a multi-course wine country repast for about 40 at the Gunthers' home. His food will be paired with about seven different wines from Silver Oak Cellars.

Tyler's Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

* Clean as you go, so you'll have enough counter space and tools.

* Be a minimalist. You need three knives: an eight-inch chef's knife, a serrated knife and paring knife. Two cutting boards, a stock pot, a few mixing bowls, two sheet pans and about three sauce pans of varying sizes are enough to create almost any meal.

* Plan your menu and fill each grocery bag or box on land with the recipe and necessary ingredients. Onboard, assemble each recipe from its own bag.

* Select uncomplicated recipes with no more than five ingredients. Use color and garnish for a glamorous plate.

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