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Tyler Florence and Pringles. Really?

Chef Tyler Florence and fans in Bethesda on Sunday. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

A skeptic who watches a celeb chef appearing on behalf of some corporate product might think: sellout. In Tony Bourdain’s new book, “Medium Raw,” the hipster sourpuss author delivers his thoughts on why Emeril Lagasse had to hawk toothpaste and Thomas Keller keeps opening restaurants. Few euphemisms are left unchurned, mostly having to do with feeding a Beast. Talk about cynical, dude.

On Sunday afternoon, I thought I’d be witnessing something along those lines. Food Network star Tyler Florence had a 2 p.m. appearance at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, with folks queueing up to get him to sign cans of – wait for it – Pringles Multigrain crisps.

Cue the “SNL” skit: Really, Tyler?

Florence has to count his missions on fingers and toes these days: kitchen stores with a signature line of knives pots and pans; restaurants in Napa and in Mill Valley, Calif., where he lives; a line of organic baby food; private-label wine; a 250-recipe cookbook due out in the fall; an iPhone app; a prime-time FN challenge show debuting Aug. 15 called “The Great Food Truck Race”; “Tyler’s Ultimate” and his early “Food 911” series will be rerun on the Cooking Channel; charity gigs and plenty of under-the-radar, coast-to-coast personal appearances (think Jonas Brothers rockin’ the big bar mitzvahs).

As far as I can tell, though, he is running the Florence Group, not the other way ’round. His connection with Pringles consists of three letters: SOS, which stands for Share Our Strength, most visible recently in the Chefs Move to Schools effort. “He’s been actively working with us for the past decade,” says Bekah Meyerowitz, the organization’s manager of business development. The U Taste, We Donate campaign that began in April and will run through July needed a famous face to help market three new flavors of multigrain Pringles. Parent company Proctor & Gamble will donate $1 every time someone enters a UPC code from a new Pringles can online, up to $100,000.

SOS is committed to ending childhood hunger in America. Was it worried about a contradictory message in such a link to processed snack food? “We thought a lot about it,” Meyerowitz says. “I guess in the end we liked the idea of being able to reach consumers at all levels.”

“I had no hesitation about this,” Florence says. “P and G is a fantastic company and it felt like a good way to donate. “Plus, you can’t deny Pringles are delicious.”

There were no Tyler Florence goods to sell at the two-hour mall event. For the record, yes, there are cans of the crisps in his pantry.

The company did ask him to come up with complementary recipes, an effort that didn’t quite mesh. “I wanted crushed chips on the sandwich, in the soup. They didn’t,” he says. “It’s all good.” The recipes on the Web site show intact rows of chips alongside the chef’s two sandwiches and a baked potato soup.

As it turns out, Florence and five of his staff had been flown into the Washington area to cook a poolside barbecue for the wife of the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday. (He Tweeted photos of dishes.) It was a private birthday party for 40 guests; an American theme was requested, so the chefs did roasted lamb chops with black-eyed peas and pickled okra, potato salad, grilled lobster and corn on the cob; a burger bar, antipasti bar and ice cream sundae bar. The day before, Florence and co. cooked for the Napa Valley Wine Auction dinner at winemaker Michael Mondavi’s house.

“My new skill in life is time management,” the 39-year-old chef says. “D.C. was on the Pringles’ list of cities to do promotion and I knew I’d be here.” It will probably be his only personal Pringles appearance during the campaign.

A good cause and a couple of bicoastal gigs, all in 48 hours. Tyler Florence is having fun, with more than enough energy to pull it off. Any misgivings about motives washed away with the afternoon downpour.

Of course, today's "Summer Salad Celebration Twitter Party with Food Network Star Tyler Florence!" sponsored by Wishbone salad dressings may be another story altogether.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 7, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Chefs  | Tags: Bonnie S. Benwick, chefs  
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Next: Say Cheese: Meet Sebastien Tavel


If anyone is interested in the Napa Valley Wine auction dinner mentioned in the article or a way to use your iPhone to find any northern California winery, I recommend iNapa. It doesn't require a network connection which is spotty at best in wine country. Also, no typing is required to find your desired location. Have fun!

Posted by: dkmcguire | June 14, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

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