Energetic and passionate about food and wine, Tyler Florence, 34, has traveled all over the world as host of popular Food Network shows such as Food 911, Tyler's Ultimate and a Planet Food episode that visited the wine regions of Tuscany. He's the author of two cookbooks: Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen and Eat this Book. A culinary graduate of Johnson & Wales University in South Carolina, Florence honed his skills working with Charlie Palmer at Aureole before taking on executive chef positions at Cibo and Cafeteria in New York. Making the move to television was natural for Florence; his mother worked at a TV station and he grew up around camera crews and directors.
Wine Spectator: Do you have any special personal memories of wine?
Tyler Florence: We did this whole story on Brunello. We came upon Franco Biondi-Santi, a very dapper Italian guy who doesn't speak English. … We walked through his cantina where he kept all his reserve wines. It just went on and on and on. Halfway through the tour, [he] tapped me on the shoulder and pulled out of his pocket this gnarly, hand-tooled rusty old key. He gestures, "Follow me." And behind the cantina is this big old wooden door, and he's the only person in the world that has the key to open the lock to it. It's a bomb shelter, a tiny room with only a swinging light bulb, and in it, he had 400 bottles of 1955 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino [which Wine Spectator picked as one of the magazine's Wines of the Century.] And he also had two piles of very old bottles, made of hand-blown green glass. They were his grandfather's first two vintages. This is the root of Brunello di Montalcino.
WS: Did he open a bottle for you?
TF: God, no. He held one up to the light, and it was sluggish and he said, "Rosso. Molto bene. Rosso." Holding it up right to the light bulb, sloshing it back and forth. And I have this whole thing on tape, but the hair on the back of my neck is just standing up. That was one of the moments where wine became sacred.
WS: Do you collect wine?
TF: I collect wine, and I drink it. I have a pretty small apartment. I entertain a lot. I get cases of wine from the Chelsea Wine Vault in New York. For the most part, I'll call the wine director and say, 'What do you have?' and usually get a mixed box of stuff. … I like a delicious Pinot from Oregon. Cabs are great, Zinfandels, I love big reds. It's such a craft to turn crushed grape juice into something that's so powerful and so beautiful.
WS: Are you a frustrated winemaker inside?
TF: I like the idea of having some land somewhere in the North Fork of Long Island, to have a farm and make some wine. Who knows? I'm 34. I think I have a few more lives to live. I could totally reinvent myself and do that and be very happy.
WS: Do you have a favorite bottle in your cellar?
TF: A bottle of 1996 Biondi-Santi. It's one wine I keep an eye on.