I am the type of person that, when I become interested in something, I throw myself into that endeavor with a zealousness that some people might find a little crazy. Call it obsession. Call it insanity. Call it an addictive personality. Thankfully, my vices haven’t led me to things like drugs and alcohol; instead, I throw caution to the wind when exploring my love of music, certain musicians, clothes, beauty products, and even celebrity chefs.
Upon graduating from college, I moved back to the small town in which I had grown up. The opportunities for truly gainful employment were few and far between, which resulted in my taking a position as a substitute teacher. The pay was paltry, affording me little in the way of luxury, but there was also little responsibilty in my position. I had no stress, no work to bring home with me in the evenings. I arrived at work at 7:45 each morning and was pulling out of the parking lot by 3:00. This schedule allowed me plenty of free time to relax, to explore my hobbies, and develop new interests. While I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and doing productive things, I also spent a lot of time sleeping and watching hours of tv.
One particular Saturday afternoon, I was mindlessly channel surfing, searching for anything that could remotely hold my interest. I flipped multiple times through hundreds of channels, yet was unable to find anything. In times like this, I had three choices that I always relied on: news, sports, or Food Network. I wasn’t really in the mood to listen to the droning of the news anchors on CNN, and in my hurried fllpping, the only sport I had noticed was golf. Not interested in the listlessness either of these two choices would bring, I chose Food Network.
I’d never been much of a cook, only stepping into the kitchen to prepare the simplest and most boring meals imaginable. My mother never enjoyed cooking and I grew up eating a repetitive assortment of quick, out-of-the-box meals. Similarly, those were the only meals I had ever learned to make. The only deviation to that had occured while watching an episode of Emeril Live with my dad. Engrossed by a peanut butter pie, I had looked up the recipe and given it a try. It had turned out well, but sparked no interest beyond that one event. Though I had developed no love of cooking, I still found pleasure in watching others craft artful and delicious meals.
I sat down at my desk to do some exploring on the internet, thinking that the tv would provide nice background noise. I listened as I surfed, but quickly abandoned the computer all together in favor of the tv. There was a show on that I’d never seen before and my interest was piqued. The host was young and attractive, but that wasn’t what really hooked me. It was the premise of the show, called Tyler’s Ultimate. Apparently, the host, Tyler Florence, would pick out a dish, then travel around the world to find the best examples of this meal. In the end, he would return to his kitchen and prepare his version–the ultimate. I scoffed a little, wondering who this guy thought he was. Who decided that his versions were the best, that they were the ultimate?
On this episode, sandwiches were the key component, which I found bizarrely intriguing. Who traveled around the globe looking for the perfect sandwich? I don’t recall what sandwiches Tyler sampled in his travels, but I do recall that in one segment, he met with the current Earl of Sandwich. His end result was a perfect looking turkey sandwich. I’m not even a fan of turkey sandwiches, but it looked absolutely divine. I could feel an obsession beginning to brew.
I turned back to my computer, initiating a mad assault on google. I was only able to find very basic information, a few pictures, and various news articles. My search continued. I squealed with delight when I stumbled upon his Food Network profile. There were a plethora of recipes, but most interesting to me was the fact that Tyler’s Ultimate wasn’t the only show he hosted. There were three! (The others were Food 911 and How to Boil Water.) I looked up the programming information and jotted down the show times on a post-it. I definitely needed to see some more of this man in action.
Tyler’s Ultimate quickly became my favorite Food Network show, as I watched Tyler work his way through a variety of menu items: pizza, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, tacos, cheesecake, and more. Everything looked delicious. I even found my mouth watering as I stared open-mouthed at his ultimate meatloaf. I hate meatloaf!
The more I watched, the more entranced I became. There was something about his demeanor and the way that he presented his recipes. It excited me, made me feel like if I wanted, I could try them with success. And try, I did. I started working my way through the catalog of recipes on Food Network, then purchased my very first cookbook.
I remember trying his cheesecake recipe for the first time. I bought a springform pan, took my time in perfecting this beautiful graham cracker crust, poured my batter in, placed the pan in a water bath, baked and hoped for the best. What I didn’t count on was that my truly terrible $8 hand mixer from the dollar store was not meant to be used with cream cheese. My cheesecake baked up beautifully, minus the awful hunks of cream cheese hidden inside. That’s a surprise you really do not want!
Though I had a few disasters along the way, they were incredibly few and far between. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was making things without a recipe, that I could just go into the kitchen, grab some things from the refrigerator, and make a meal. I had learned to cook!
It seems crazy now, but it’s been ten years since I saw that first episode of Tyler’s Ultimate. I still watch Tyler Florence on tv (The Great Food Truck Race is amazing!), download his podcasts, buy his cookbooks, and dream of someday visiting one of his restaurants. There are other chefs I enjoy and admire, but I’ll always have Tyler Florence to thank for the genuine joy I feel when I’m in the kitchen.
Coming soon: the time I saw Tyler Florence in person…