The (Food) Future is Female

A Chat with Chefs Tiffany Derry & Uno Immanivong

She’s a little bit Hoda. She’s a little bit Kathie Lee. Meet the women behind two of Legacy Hall’s most popular restaurants. Tiffany Derry is an award winning chef, former “Top Chef” competitor and owner of Southern food favorite Roots Chicken Shak. Uno Immanivong is the owner of Red Stix Asian Street Food and Chef Uno Brands, and founded Chino Chinatown in Dallas’ Trinity Groves. We sat down with these two real-life BFFs to talk food, friendship, and what it’s like for women in their fast-paced industry.

Uno Immanivong (left) with Tiffany Derry // photos Jennifer Shertzer
Uno Immanivong (left) with Tiffany Derry // photos Jennifer Shertzer

PM: How long have y’all known each other? Has it been a long time?

Uno: Six years. It feels like 20.

Tiffany: You know how when friends are friends and go five months without talking. No, this is like every day.

U: I think our significant others kind of get a little jealous.

PM: How did you meet?

T: So, Uno was part of a radio show I was on as a guest. And somehow we started talking about what foods do I like. I said I love Thai food, and this little sparkle in her eye came about. But if you let Uno tell the story…

U: Well, you know, secretly I was like, ‘oh, that’s Tiffany Derry.’ Well, I met her right after she got done with ‘Top Chef.’ And she was at Private Social, and one of my friends was a writer for Eater. And so I went in and took a picture with her.

T: But I don’t remember it. She does. And so our real meeting was at the radio station. And then I found out we had this love for food, for Thai food specifically. I mean, that was the start of it.

U: We were talking about seeing who could find the most authentic Thai food.

T: She did it.

U: I did it. I topped her.

PM: Have you ever critiqued each others’ food?

T: I do, because I want her to see it on her own. But for the most part, when it comes to food, we’re pretty honest with each other. Because, first off, we both love food. I want her business to succeed; she wants my business to succeed. And quite frankly, we’re sister restaurants. We are right across from each other [at Legacy Hall] … And she’ll tell me if something’s off in the restaurant.

U: Every now and again I’ll taste something. And I’ll be like, ‘did you taste this? It’s wrong.’ And she’s like, ‘yeah, I wasn’t going to say anything, but your pâté’s a little thick.’ But now we’re cheerleaders for each other. [Tiffany] just did the James Beard dinner. I have to brag on her just a minute. Here is this amazing dinner, and she’s doing the main course. And she cooks turkey wings, the thing that gets discarded the most. And she made a whole meal out of it — it was absolutely fantastic — utilizing all the pieces, all the stems of all the vegetables that would have been thrown away. It was just awesome. And it’s effortless for her. This is just the way her mind works.

T: There’s a picture of Uno and I at the Beard House.

U: It captures our spirit.

T: I’m supposed to be giving a speech, right. So they say, ‘All the chefs come out!’ Here comes Uno in her chef jacket, too. She gets up there and she’s like, ‘Oh, shoot, they’re not talking about me.’ I’m like, ‘It’s okay, Uno. Just stay there. Just stand behind me.’ So I’m talking and doing my speech, and then I see her just smiling, just beaming this smile of, like, mama bear pride at me. But she’s like this close to me.

U: I go, ‘Tiffany, I’m not even supposed to be up here.’ Everyone’s talking about their dish and what they’re doing, and I’m hiding around the corner. I did it twice. At the end, they were like, ‘Can all the chefs come up so we can thank them?’ And I go up there, and I’m like, ‘I’m not supposed to be here. How did I do this twice in one night?’ So now that’s my screensaver whenever she calls me.

Chef Uno and Chef Tiffany at the James Beard Dinner // courtesy Uno Immanivong
Chef Uno and Chef Tiffany at the James Beard Dinner // courtesy Uno Immanivong

PM: What has your experience been in the past? In most of the kitchens you’ve been in, is it all guys?

T: Coming up, for me, I was always the only woman in the kitchen. And even in my kitchens, there’s been one or two [women]. But I haven’t even come across [many] that come in and apply. This kitchen [at Roots] would probably be the most that I’ve ever had.

U: Yeah, mine’s half. I’m pretty conscious of diversity, and a lot of my team members are Hispanic. I want to be able to give [my team] a career path. I would love to have — and I have my eye on — some female chefs to come work for me.

T: I think that there are a lot of hurdles for women. You find more women who gravitate toward being personal chefs or catering. And that’s what works for them, just because of the lifestyle that this takes. I think for women, it’s a hard choice. I grew up feeling that I had to make the choice. Then somewhere along the way, I started to feel like I could have it all. Like I can create a family, and I can get married and I can have a restaurant. It took a long time to get to that place.

U: I think [Tiffany] and I are trying to change what that landscape looks like. As I look at creating more Red Stix locations, I look at creating family and life balance. So everybody gets two days off a week, because there has to be that work-life balance. If you’re not happy at work, and you’re not happy in your family life, then you don’t have happy food, as cheesy as that sounds. That is the core of who I am.

PM: You both came from pretty different backgrounds to end up in this industry.

U: Just like [working at] IHOP influenced Tiffany, my mom catering influenced me. I didn’t ever think I would be in the food industry. I loved it. But I never thought I could be in it, and I actually make a living.

T: IHOP told me that I couldn’t cook, and no girls were allowed in the kitchen. I mean, think about it. Not that long ago, no girls were allowed in the kitchen. I was like, ‘Oh, what do you have? I’ll be a server then.’

U: I just think sometimes life takes you where you need to be, and you lay down the foundation for where you want to go. And I honestly stumbled on the food industry. I did a TV show with Anthony Bourdain, and he goes, ‘Uno, you should cook and open a restaurant.’ I came back from the show, and somebody introduced me to Phil Romano. It was almost like the universe was yelling, ‘Please do this. This is where you’re supposed to be.’ And now it’s up to me to make the best of it and to leave something behind, because multiple people took a chance on me to do this.’

T: I know. I get that call.

U: But conceptually, you think up things in your head, you get to make it, you get to put it on a menu, and you get to put it in people’s bellies. That’s more intimate than sex in some ways. Food is a very intimate thing.

PM: What other female chefs in Legacy Hall do you admire?

T: [Tida Pichakron] has Haute Sweets Patisserie downstairs. She’s great and she’s doing multiple storefronts. And it’s good for us to have Les Dames d’Escoffier, our organization that supports other women and supports other scholarships. It’s pretty cool. We have almost 90-something women here in the DFW chapter. And all of our money raised goes back to women who want to be in food and in the culinary industry, through mentorship, through scholarship dollars. Every part of it.

PM: Tiffany, do you think you’ll expand Roots?

T: Yes, one of the projects I have planned would be an extension of the Roots here. So it would be a full-on restaurant. I want to do a Southern restaurant — what I grew up eating — like Louisiana-style, not into the Carolinas. That’s very different from what where I grew up. I grew up in Beaumont, but my family’s from Baton Rouge and Port Allen. That food is very much a part of who I am.

U: You know, as we share part of our lives on Chef Bonnet Diaries. I think that’s how you kind of got to know us a little bit better —

PM: Yeah, we’ve seen your Chef Bonnet Diaries videos on Facebook. We have to talk about that.

U: We were at Lake Granbury last summer. And she’s like, ‘Okay, bonnets. We should do this.’ So we did it.

T: We were Facebooking, and we were live.

U: It was the best accident ever, and the feedback was so great. We’re like, ‘They really want to hear from us? That’s weird.’ But it’s really conversations that we have about ourselves.

T: It’s funny now, because we’ll go places, and they’ll be like, ‘When’s the next Chef Bonnet Chronicles?’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’

U: That’s what we’ve become known for now. But it’s great, because it’s evolving to not just talk personal lives but to talk about the things we’re talking to you about now, like real life things that affect people in this industry. Because it’s not easy. It’s tough. And we cry to each other, and it’s like, ‘Wow, how did we get here?’ But at the end of the day, none of this stuff is life or death.

screenshot of Facebook video // courtesy Uno and Tiffany

PM: What do you think will be the evolution of Chef Bonnet Diaries? You guys have had a lot of response.

T: Well, I feel that we will have a talk show. What’s that… Hoda and what?

U: Hoda and Kathie Lee.

T: That’s what people compare us to. And I could see it. At first, I was like, ‘Wait, what are we doing?’ But now I’m like, ’Okay, let’s do it!’

U: She has a reputation to uphold. I have no reputation.

PM: Any chance you have something planned together for the future?

T: Who knows? One day, we might open our Thai restaurant. I think that would be fun.

U: I think when we retire, we’re going to be those old, crotchedy ladies —

T: Hopefully not single.

U: Hopefully not single, but if we were it would be okay. But I think we would do a small restaurant together. Or a food truck.

T: No, I’m not doing a food truck. But I can’t even imagine my life outside of the restaurant business. Like, I see myself with a cane walking through this bad boy. ‘Did you check that? Did you check this? Where’s the chicken?’

Roots Chicken Shak > Red Stix Asian Street Food >
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