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Tiffany Derry: The Private Life of a Social Chef

by  V. Sheree Williams on July 31, 2011
Tiffany Derry: The Private Life of a Social Chef

Her bubbly personality and Southern hospitality captured the hearts of “Top Chef” fans during season seven and again on “Top Chef All-Stars,” where she landed in the final four.  These days, Chef Tiffany Derry is at the top of her game following a successful culinary career that extends over 10 years.  I had the pleasure of talking to her via phone as she prepares for her new role as the executive chef at the soon to be opened Private Social restaurant this month in the Uptown area in Dallas.

Determined to follow her passion for food since high school, Derry’s current road to success can be traced back to cooking at family gatherings in Beaumont, Texas, her first job at IHOP, teaching culinary classes at The Art Institute of Houston and invaluable contributions to the success of Go Fish Ocean Club.  So when the casting team for “Top Chef’ came calling, she was more than prepared to compete against other talented professionals from across the country.

An athlete throughout high school, Derry actually turned down a golf scholarship to attend culinary school.  “When I turned 15, I wanted a job and I started working at IHOP and from there it just took over.  I wanted to be in the kitchen.  I wanted it all.”  She enrolled in The Art Institute of Houston, which opened her eyes to food from other countries that was different from what she grew up eating. “While I was in school I did a lot of traveling.  I went to Paris, went [to] China, went to Napa Valley and every time we take a trip we would go to a school or some area of learning in those areas.  That is when I started to really realized I wanted to do this and I wanted to see more.”

Her first internship was with a chef named Mark Holley at a seafood restaurant named Pesce in Houston. When remembering the experience, she says, “I grew up in his restaurant.”  She eventually moved to Dallas to work for an Italian restaurant called Grotto Ristorante before taking a position at Go Fish.  Although she was in the same city as fellow All-Star contestant Tre Wilcox, the two didn’t officially meet until they appeared on the show together and now both will have their own restaurants in full operation by the end of the year.

Private Social is the highly anticipated new venture by Derry whose news has been buzzing around the city since last year.  The restaurant will be located in the attractive downtown area known as Uptown and offer an experience for the casual to more formal diner.  The menu will be composed of dishes that Derry calls New American.  “New American is so many different things.  It is kind of vague.  New American for me is my experience. It is the food that I have done, the food that I have eaten which always comes back to the food that I do.  It is always going to have a southern flare.”  The experience will be very unique as the “Private” dining side will be more on the quiet side, with more of the upscale dishes that many have come to love from Derry.  The “Social” side will be the place for local socialites, with menu items all under $10.  Derry notes that, “I am treating them like two different restaurants.”

In a YouTube video, you can see Derry walking through the location and painting visuals for her fans about how the restaurant will look once completed.  While I am sure the project is a lot further along than what you see on the video, the opening hasn’t officially been announced, which leaves us all anxiously waiting.

While a very social person, privately Derry is enjoying her success with her family and husband, who she said is far from a foodie and steps out of his comfort zone every once and a while. She now calls Dallas her home, but still enjoys going to back to Beaumont for family gatherings where she gets a free ticket to just eat, which she says is quite nice.

Her parting advice for aspiring chefs coming up in the industry is, “Don’t be afraid of some hard work.”  She adds, “Know that this is something you have a passion for and you are not just doing it because you want to either be on TV or because you want to have this great celebrity status because there is so much more that you don’t see and if you are not willing to put in the work, then guess what… you don’t deserve the reward.”

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