‘Top Chef’ fave Tiffany Derry brings her new concept to her favorite neighborhood
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
It’s just a few hours before her new restaurant, Private|Social, is set to open with a red carpet gala, but if the pressure is getting to Tiffany Derry, you wouldn’t know it to look at her.
For one thing, she has help. Through the glass in the dining room looking into the kitchen, you can see a staff diligently and wordlessly going through the motions of a prep chef: mixing pizza dough, chopping herbs, readying eggs for a passed appetizer. But look closer, and the faces are familiar. Arnold Myint, dapper and pixieish, was a contestant on Top Chef; to his right, fellow finalist Kelly Liken; to his left, Kevin Sbraga, who actually won their season. These may be the best line cooks anyone’s had since Jacques Pepin peeled potatoes for Julia Child.
But that’s the kind of affection Derry generates — and a second reason why she might not look stressed out: She’s used to it.
Derry’s last 18 months have been remarkable. There has been no bigger breakout star from all seasons of Top Chef than her. She made the final five of Season 7, winning the “fan favorite” prize, then immediately returned for the first all-stars season, coming in fourth.
“I always said about the show, I don’t care if I won or lost as long as I do my best by my standards. One thing I just loved about [being on Top Chef] was, it challenged me to do more and be better,” she says.
That ended up being a good dry run for what was to come. Just as the all-stars started filming, Derry got shocking news: The owners of the restaurant in North Dallas that she’d launched, Go Fish, closed it with no notice. Dallas’ biggest celebrity of the moment found herself out of a job.
That lasted all of two days.
When investors who were interested in opening a new concept realized Derry was available, she was the first person they called. For Derry, it was serendipity.
“Had it not closed, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she says. “The moment you get a job, you start thinking anyone can take this away from me. I needed to be in a position to make my own moves.”
What made Derry popular with audiences is part of her appeal in person. She’s loud and upfront about everything — there’s no hint of politicking when she answers questions, and she has a strong sense of her own personality. She knows that serves her well as a chef… all she needs to do is bring that personality to the plate. And the shuttering of Go Fish offered her the chance to double down on her skill set in the kitchen.
“I was starting to get stale at certain things,” Derry admits. Her background is in both seafood and Italian cuisine, and a new concept offered her the opportunity to expand her palate.
“I knew I wanted to do some global food,” she says. “I do love fish — I love playing with the textures. When I see a piece of meat, my first reaction is, ‘What do I do with this?’”
Derry was intimately involved in every aspect of launching Private|Social, including the locale.
“I always knew I wanted to be in Uptown,” she declares. When she came into the space along McKinney Avenue, she says, she knew instantly that it was where she wanted to be. She hand-picked every piece of stem- and flatware on the tables, and even selected the “P” and “S” on the door handles — one opening into “private,” the other into “social.” (The menus are printed in-house, so Derry anticipates updating them at least monthly, if not weekly.)
The concept was also near-and-dear to her. The paradoxical name indicates not only the bifurcated dining areas, but the menu as well. Want high-end event dining with a seasonal menu? Ask for “private.” Prefer to meet up with some friends after work for large plates less expensive food and cocktails? Choose “social.” Both menus are available in both dining areas — even at the same table. It also means that diners with differing budgets can eat at the same restaurant and enjoy different price points to fit their wallets without feeling intimidated.
Welcome to the post-financial meltdown world of dining out.
Derry quickly ’fesses that the pre-opening part of the restaurant biz is her favorite. There’s potential at each corner to do something new. Everything is possible.
“I have to calm my tendency to make everything Asian,” she says of her menu process on Private|Social. “There is a lot of seafood; the gnudi is Italian and my vegetarian option is a pasta, but oh, well.” One item she’s happy to have added is a massive “salad” invented by Arnold Myint’s mother. It’s labor-intensive and outside her comfort zone a little, but why not try something new? Derry is used to taking chances.
Right now, though, she has to get back to the kitchen to get ready for her opening. Then there’s a trip to the salon and a night of media and guests and reality TV shows filming every moment of the most important day of her life.
But Derry doesn’t break a sweat. This is what she lives for. If she can survive Tom Colicchio’s judgments, she’s ready to take on anything.
• online exclusive
For red carpet photos of the opening night gala at
Private|Social, visit DallasVoice.com/category/Photos.