TV Appearances and a New Restaurant on the Horizon for Plano’s Own Top Chef
When the pandemic forced restaurant dining rooms to close last March, Roots Chicken Shak inside Legacy Hall was forced to convert its business to take-out only. Roots’ menu, which consists of duck-fat fried chicken wings, strips, sandwiches and salads, was available for locals to pick up and bring home, but owner Tiffany Derry wanted to do more.
Recently, we sat down with Tiffany to reflect on a difficult 2020 and ask her thoughts on what lies ahead in the new year for the food industry.
The accomplished chef is from Beaumont and began working in the food industry at age 15 as a server. Throughout college, she studied abroad multiple times and developed her love for diverse cultures and cuisines. Since then, she has earned much praise, including being recognized by Dallas Morning News as one of the “Best Chefs in DFW.”
At the onset of the pandemic, Tiffany and her team began offering “grocery bags.” A person could sign up for a grocery bag, which would be filled with all the ingredients needed to cook a full meal at home. Some other local restaurants did this too, as a way to use up fresh ingredients that would otherwise spoil with such drastically reduced business.
After a couple of weeks, Tiffany and team began offering ready-made family dinners. After some experimenting, they arrived at the final form of their pandemic adaptation – $40 meal packages. The meal included food for four people, including dessert and sometimes a bottle of wine.
“Some days were fried pork chops, red beans and rice, old school chocolate cake, salads. We always made sure we had fresh vegetables,” Tiffany said.
While cooking daily family dinners, Roots also provided meals for first responders.
“We then had companies come in and say, ‘We want to donate for this particular company. We want to send 100 lunches to them.’ We then got a contract with another company that fed 400 [people] every Tuesday and 1,600 [people] every Tuesday. That became our norm for a while – the dinners, the first responders and the contract,” she said.
None of the family meals Roots offered came from the menu, so how did Tiffany decide what to cook each week?
“I’d get on Facebook and ask, ‘What y’all want to eat this week?’” she laughed.
Many of the meals she cooked for the community were ones she grew up eating. Gumbo, perhaps the most special to her, was made in mass quantities many times in those months. Growing up, she often visited family in Louisiana and enjoyed her grandmother’s gumbo. To this day, it is one of her favorite things to eat. Through family meals, she had the chance to share that with Plano.
“The community saved us. That’s something so special. Our focus and aim was on the community from the beginning, and they were our biggest supporters,” Tiffany said.
Good Things to Come
An especially bright spot during the pandemic for Tiffany was the chance to return to the TV show “Top Chef.” She originally appeared as a contestant on season seven, and again later on “Top Chef: All-Stars.” This time she returned as a judge.
This past fall, Tiffany and the rest of the judges – including Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons – and contestants headed to Portland. After their arrival, they each quarantined in a hotel room for 14 days. By strictly staying inside the production bubble, they were able to safely film without any illnesses.
“We filmed ‘Top Chef’ season 18 as well as ‘Top Chef Amateurs’ in which the chefs cook with amateur chefs. They were amazing. I had a fantastic time cooking with people and having a little influence on their menu or dish. It was some good healthy competition,” she said.
Official dates for both shows have not been announced but Tiffany says they should air in early 2021.
In regard to her outlook for 2021, Tiffany is optimistic. A second location of Roots Chicken Shak opened in Austin this past summer. She also has plans to open another restaurant in Farmers Branch called Roots Southern Table that will serve dishes Tiffany grew up eating as well as some of her favorite foods.
“We will be inspired by what grows, swims or roams in our region. At Roots Southern Table, everyone will be welcome,” she said.
Her new place will be a sit-down spot with an emphasis on patio seating. There will be A/C and heating units on the patio to make outdoor dining comfortable.
“I have to be optimistic. I have to believe we can get there. We just have to be careful. Thankfully, we live in Texas, and we’re not forced to close our doors right now. We have to make the best decisions we can with the information we’ve been given. We need to make sure we keep our people safe. We need to figure out how to keep going,” she said.Tiffany Derry Concepts >