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Tyler Florence’s new book is a departure from typical Food Network fare

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
Tyler Florence’s new book features the kinds of dishes that he’d serve at his upscale San Francisco restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, including this kale salad with roasted grapes.

Tyler Florence’s new book reminds us that the 16-year veteran of the Food Network isn’t just a TV host and entrepreneurial father of three who founded an organic baby food company.

“This is who I am as a chef,” Florence said in an interview last week ahead of the book’s release. “This is the first book that doesn’t have a Food Network filter attached to it.”

Sure, he still hosts “Tyler’s Ultimate” and “The Great Food Truck Race” on the popular cable network, but when he’s not traveling for events or show tapings, he is very much hands-on at his upscale San Francisco restaurant Wayfare Tavern.

Unlike his previous seven cookbooks, “Tyler Florence Fresh” (Clarkson Potter, $35) doesn’t try to sell you on how simple, family-friendly or everyday the recipes are. (Florence will sign copies of the book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople.)

The dishes — especially how he mixes unexpected flavors and textures such as a lemon cucumber salsa that tops the grilled artichoke or the pickled mango with lemongrass and sriracha dressing paired with Dungeness crab — feel inventive and modern.

Some of the cooking techniques he employs, particularly sous vide, are still foreign to most home cooks, but Florence has put in enough hours (and pages) showing us how to make mac and cheese and frittatas to take an artistic, if somewhat highbrow detour.

Making the journey even more enjoyable are gorgeous images from John Lee, but one of the most striking parts of the book isn’t the recipes or the photos but the five-page introduction that tells you everything you need to know about how the American food system is broken.

Using more scientific data and lingo than you’d expect from a celebrity chef, Florence makes the link between Americans’ declining health and trans-fats, highly processed sugars, farm subsidies and genetically modified foods, going so far as to claim that GMOs are behind the rapid increase in allergies to foods such as peanuts, gluten and milk.

“You have to watch what you eat, not just from a diet standpoint,” he says.

Florence acknowledges that people are responsible for their own eating decisions, but he wants to be clear that the food industry, in its quest for cheap food and high profit margins, should shoulder much of the blame. “This is why we are as unhealthy as we are,” he says.

When asked about why he has taken on a more vocal role in such a political issue, he said he didn’t feel like it was a difficult choice. “When you’ve been given the opportunity to have a platform, you have say the right thing,” he says.

“We are at the dawn of enlightenment of understanding that we are what we eat,” Florence says. “There’s so much information out there that for many people, the domino has started to fall,” all the way to the top of the Food Network chain.

Take Paula Deen, he says. Since being diagnosed with diabetes several years ago (and publicly endorsing a diabetes drug company earlier this year), Deen, a longtime friend of Florence’s, has lost about 40 pounds and is starting to take on a slightly different tone in her shows about just how often you can eat mashed potatoes with two sticks of butter in them. The message hasn’t changed entirely, but it’s getting better, he says.

And to any doubters who think the little pale yellow chick on the cover of “Tyler Florence Fresh” is Photoshopped, Florence says, think again. “Her name is Rosa,” he says, and she’s one of four backyard chickens his family is raising behind their Bay Area home. With the coop and the vet bills, they are laying “$100 eggs” but are “a real joy to have around.”

Kale Salad with Apple, Walnuts, and Roasted Grape Vinaigrette