Tiffany Derry’s Southern Roots

photography Kathy Tran

Plano’s Tiffany Derry returned to television in June on PBS’s new show The Great American Recipe.  Her latest foray into TV sees her once again serving as a judge on a culinary program.  A veteran of multiple shows including Top Chef, Chopped, Guy’s Tournament of Champions, Bar Rescue and Beat Bobby Flay among others, she said that she’s looking forward to potentially reaching a different audience.

“One of the things I’m excited about is that PBS is all about education,” she says. “At the root of every show, you will definitely learn something.”

Those who watch the show can expect to see a diverse group from different backgrounds sharing stories which are woven into their food.  According to Derry, this is what makes the show so much more than just a cooking competition.  She and her colleague have found themselves pulling for everyone.

photography Kathy Tran

“Honestly, I’ve never seen a group of people rooting for each other so hard,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God — what’s happening here?’”

Derry comes from a long line of cooks.  She considers her mother the best, though the competition was tough. Her grandmother had 11 children on their farm in Port Allen, Louisiana.  She taught them all how to cook and made sure that each one learned how to hold their own.

These days, Derry is doing more than just holding her own.  For many years, she dreamed of owning her own restaurant but was never able to quite put everything together.  Then in 2016, she founded T2D concepts with business partner Tom Foley. The following year, they opened Roots Chicken Shak in Legacy Hall.  It features her trademark duck fat fried chicken.

Since then, she’s opened a second Shak in Austin and announced a third location in DeSoto. 

Last year, she opened Roots Southern Table in Farmers Branch.  The restaurant was named a finalist for a prestigious James Beard Award in the best new restaurant category. Derry herself was also named one of five finalists in the Best Chef in Texas category.  She said that she couldn’t believe she was a finalist in one category.  Then she found out about the second one five minutes later.

“It just a complete honor to be on that short list,” she says. 

photography Kathy Tran

There’s not a lot of downtime for Derry these days.  Typically, at least two or three days a week are spent traveling somewhere.  Expanding Roots Chicken Shak across the country in one of her long-term goals. Derry also has her own spice and apparel line. An advocate for equity and social justice, she devotes significant time lobbying on behalf of those issues. She also travels on behalf of the US embassy talking about food, waste and sustainability. It’s all a dream come true, though it can be exhausting at times. 

“Sometimes I say, ‘is this a friendly dream or is this a nightmare?’” she jokes. “They both look the same.”

Despite that, she has no desire to slow down. Derry still loves being able to create experiences by creating food.  She has cooked for President Obama, worked with some of the world’s most famous chefs, and become a celebrity chef in her own right.  However, it’s the moments away from the limelight that often mean the most.

A few weeks ago, she hosted an event at Roots Southern Table for fellow chef and friend, Kwame Onwuachi. Lots of families turned out to meet him, eat crawfish and enjoy the day. There was music, dancing and happy faces all around.  Derry says that just being in that room and seeing people having fun brought her immense joy.

At one point, a woman who had recently lost a sister came up to tell her this was the first time she had been out in a while. She was a fan of Derry but couldn’t quite put into words what she was feeling. What she did know was that she’d had a special moment she would long remember.

“It’s those moments. Those are the things you can’t really put a price on. It’s something that has to be experienced.  It has to be felt, and everyone in there had a good time,” Derry says. “That’s what I want to do.  I want to create that over and over and over.”

photography Kathy Tran
Written By
More from Joshua Baethge
Plano Portal Project Sculptures
Drivers heading into Downtown Plano now have more to look at than...
Read More
Leave a comment