Busy TV chef Tyler Florence dishes about cookbooks, restaurants and babies

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Local celebrity Tyler Florence signed books at the Haywood Applebees.

To call Tyler Florence busy may be the understatement of the year. The 37-year-old South Carolina native, once named People Magazine's "Sexiest Chef Alive," is balancing a plate full of cookbooks, restaurants and babies.

Florence's appeal seems universal. Women love his dimpled good looks, foodies tune in for his farm fresh ingredients, and the culinary world recently picked him to develop a restaurant honoring Julia Child at Napa's Copia: The American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts.

"Tyler's one of those chefs that really helped popularize cooking and the culinary arts," says Carl Sobocinski, a local restaurateur and partner in Table 301 restaurant group. "When he makes something that people enjoy watching, they want to try it at home."

Florence, who grew up in Greenville, recently headlined the Euphoria Food & Wine Festival, organized by Sobocinski and musician Edwin McCain. "Tyler was a great fit for Euphoria," Sobocinski says. "The crowd loved him."

The new cookbooks out this month — "Dinner at My Place" and "Stirring the Pot" — are deliciously photographed and lovingly descriptive. They include pictures of Tyler's home in the Northern California town of Mill Valley, as well as intimate shots of his toddler son and wife Tolan (who delivered a girl this past August).

With a schedule rivaling a presidential candidate, the ever likeable superchef still found time to dish with the Supper Swap Girls about his rapidly expanding world.

Tyler for president?

One thing's for sure, we'd all eat well.

SSG: We were thrilled to watch you cook at the Euphoria. The Grilled Mashed Potatoes blew us away, what possessed you to grill a potato?

TF: Potato salad is pretty good to start with, right? Well, throw a little bit of color and the smokiness of the grill and it just makes it that much better. It's really not any different than eating boiled chicken versus grilled. In my new book "Stirring the Pot," I'm constantly reminding everyone of the idea that COLOR equals FLAVOR. When that potato comes into contact with the hot grill, it browns and gives it that extra depth of flavor that a boiled potato salad just can't begin to match.

SSG: The new cookbook, "Dinner at My Place," really promotes local and seasonal ingredients. Your market, The Mill Valley Market, sounds fantastic. As we're heading to our local markets this winter, what should we be shopping for?

TF: I'm lucky enough to live in a foodie mecca of sorts and the Mill Valley Market is one of a couple of amazing markets that have beautiful, fresh ingredients on hand. When you are at your farmers' market, you really don't need to over think it. The beauty of farmers' markets is that you are only getting what's in season at that moment. Pick up the produce and take a look for yourself, you'll know just by holding it where you stand. If you grab a winter pear and it's too firm, wait a week.

SSG: Congratulations on the birth of your third child, Dorothy. As moms, we laughed out loud at the recipe, "My Wife's Pregnancy Pasta." So all the moms want to know ... has your wife, Tolan, retired the Pancetta Carbonara with Baby Spinach to the Pregnancy Food Hall of Fame?

TF: Well, we've had two babies in two years so it's really become a staple around our house. I've gotta to say, this recipe is just too good to put up on the shelf and wait for the next baby. It's going stay in the rotation.

SSG: Now that you've left us for the West Coast, we're all planning trips to the San Fran area. Where should we eat and where can we find you?

TF: I'm really excited to be opening two new restaurants in Northern California. Bar Florence will be opening in the spring of 2009 at the new Hotel Vertigo in San Francisco. And if you want to visit wine country while you are in town, you can come visit me at Copia: The American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts. I'm working with them right now to recreate the food of Julia Child on the Copia campus. It's a great honor to be entrusted with her recipes, and I know you'll want to stop by while on the tasting trail.

SSG: What restaurant trend will we bring home to our kitchens in 2009?

TF: You know, I really try to stay away from getting too caught up in trends. You see ingredients come in and out of fashion and styles of presentation come and go. But at the end of the day, what we, as chefs, always come back to are fresh, seasonal flavors that make sense together on the plate. I think that "simple" is the new "complicated" and I feel like that's something we are going to be seeing for a while — and I'm happy about that.

SSG: In "Dinner At My Place" you've included a lot of recipes for cocktails ... if we stopped by during happy hour what would we find you drinking?

TF: You'd probably find me mixing up a batch of Sammy Hagar's famous Cabo Wabo Margaritas.

Stephanie Burnette and Kim Eades, the Supper Swap Girls