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Tiffany Derry Opens Radici in Farmer’s Branch

It’s a cold day in January when a group of Tiffany Derry’s fans gather in the full dining room of Roots Southern Table. They’re here to watch the debut of the latest season of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America with chef Anne Burrell. The show is, astoundingly, in its 27th season, and has Derry as co-host. Guests laugh through the show while eating from a prix fixe menu that includes Derry’s famous duck-fat-fried chicken and beef short ribs. Derry sits in the dining room with a table of guests and during commercial breaks, she pops up in her chef’s jacket to tell us behind-the-scenes stories and answer questions — of which there are many. If you’ve watched Derry speak, you already know what her stage face is like. She’s captivating, hilarious, and effortlessly comfortable. Having a one-on-one conversation with Derry’s full attention feels like the sun is shining just on you.

Near the end of the evening, Tom Foley, her business partner in T2D Concepts, takes the floor to announce that the duo would open Radici Wood Fired Grill, an Italian restaurant, in mid-March (due to construction and ordering delays, it ended up opening on May 1). It’s only the first month of the year and Derry already has a slew of plans in the works: more Food Network appearances, the long-gestating franchising of Roots Chicken Shak, stints hosting international food tours, mentoring young chefs, creating a Dallas food festival, and opening a second location of Radici. That’s all in addition to her usual projects, creating a menu for a new restaurant, and training a staff to open.

To say Derry has a lot on her plate doesn’t quite do the scope of her vision justice. She’s got a lot on her serving tray, her chef’s counter, in her walk-in fridge, and spread out on every available surface and dish in her restaurants. Her ambitions are huge and she’s doing everything she can to address them. It’s a lot to get done. How the hell does she do it all?

Most Dallas-based hospitality groups that juggle multiple restaurants simultaneously have major money behind them, either from investments or generational wealth. Derry and Foley don’t. Their backers are themselves and their funds started with what they brought to the table and have multiplied based on what they’ve earned. Before Radici, Derry was already one of the busiest chefs in Dallas — how would her schedule allow her to pull off opening a new restaurant serving a completely different style of cuisine?

Derry is widely known for her signature style of Southern cooking, a blend of dishes she grew up eating and ones the chef learned to make. Her signature duck-fat-fried chicken is a staple in Flagship Lounges for American Airlines, a company she’s partnered with since 2021. She also consults on its sustainability programs, evaluating the food they order and how they use it in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation. “I think of it in terms of, before I cook the food, what can I do with it before [the waste] goes off to become compost?” Derry says. “Can we make another dish and what are we using it for? All before it comes through the door.” When American changes its menu in the Flagship Lounges, the staff trains with Derry and her sous chefs.

Her Shef seasoning, which is stocked in select H-E-B stores and is on the counters at her restaurant, went with her to Vietnam. That’s why starting from scratch with Italian cuisine is so unexpected — because unlike Derry’s numerous other Southern restaurant projects, the Radici menu is a complete reboot.

Derry’s rehearsed answer to why she chose Italian food for Radici suggests it’s a question she’s being asked a lot. She has a background in Italian cooking. Her role as executive sous at Grotto, a Southern Italian restaurant with locations around Houston, is well known, but even before that she was cooking Italian food during a run at the now-defunct Pesce in Houston’s Upper Kirby, owned by Damian Mandola, the founder of the original Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Landry’s takeover of Mandola’s restaurant portfolio is how Derry ended up opening locations of Grotto, which it also owns. It was one of those Grotto openings that brought her to the Metroplex.

It helps that Radici and Roots are neighbors. It gave Derry a kitchen to work out of, although she says that a whole lot of the recipe development happened with sous chefs Ivana Robinson and Jorge Cabrera in her home kitchen and on trips. Derry has four sous in total, including Naomig Perine and Tevon Johnson at Roots. That team takes turns assisting Derry on trips where she gives cooking demonstrations, works at food festivals, and leads culinary tour groups. When we spoke in early February 2024, Derry had just returned from a two-week trip to Vietnam where she hosted a group of 20 travelers for Modern Adventure. It was her first collaboration with the company, which has a climate-neutral certification and is a B Corp, a certification given to companies that meet a set of standards that analyze their commitment to the environment, DEI, and creating and improving community. Derry says she only works on projects that “line up with her mission.”

The Vietnam trip was arranged in 2022 and sold out in a matter of days, Derry says, and once it was completed she was scheduled to head to New York City to film another season of Bobby’s Triple Threat with Bobby Flay for the Food Network. In between, she has six to seven hours of her day booked with other things she needs to check off her to-do list — including research and development for the menu at the Radici Woodfire Grill. (At this time, she still believes the restaurant will open in March). Her schedule is already booked out for six months.

Perine, a sous chef at Roots, has worked with Derry for eight years and is currently T2D Concept’s longest-running employee. Along with the other sous chefs at the company, she is responsible for packing and shipping everything Derry might need in the way of food and seasonings, cookware, and appliances as well as ordering food from local suppliers, based on Derry’s recipes. “A day of travel is complicated because you’re carrying big coolers, running, whatever you have to do,” Perine says, noting that there is usually a day of rest to catch up at some point.

One of the pillars of how Derry does it all is delegation. Constant communication with her staff is another. She watches online reviews in real-time during dinner service and not only responds immediately to feedback, but texts the chefs on their Apple Watches if, say, a customer writes that a dish is too salty, asking her team to taste it. She may not be able to be in her restaurants physically all the time, but her presence looms and she takes her responsibility to provide the same quality of food, whether she’s there or not, seriously.

Derry also continues to work with Novo Nordisk, which she has done for over a decade, as an ambassador who gives cooking demonstrations around the country about using food to manage diabetes. She also contributes to the company’s database of recipes — many are made available publicly and some are distributed through doctor’s offices. “I have a long history of diabetes in my family, my father, brother, and great-grandfather have it,” Derry says. “Often when people are living with diabetes they feel like they have to give up on flavor. I wanted to do recipes that help people continue to enjoy food.”

Looking through the various bios for Derry online, on her website, on PBS’s website (she co-hosts The Great American Recipe on the network), the Top Chef website on Bravo (she was a contestant on season 7 and returned for Top Chef All-Stars in season 8), the Food Network (she has appeared on numerous shows), and her Wikipedia page, it’s clear that Derry hasn’t named all the things she’s involved with. There are activist causes around food, farming, and local politics she didn’t get into — she didn’t have time. After FaceTiming with Eater for 45 minutes from a parking lot where she was waiting for a shop to open so she could pick up dishware samples for Radici, she’s moving to the next thing on her calendar.

In the afternoon of the day Radici opens its doors for the first time, Derry and Foley invite Eater to stop by for a photo shoot and final interview. Guests will arrive in two hours, but Derry takes time to make a few dishes that she speaks to us about from behind the kitchen counter. The wood-fired stove she raved about when showing us the empty restaurant space in February is in place, nestled up next to the chef’s counter she was equally excited about.

Derry asks Cabrera, her sous chef, to throw on a focaccia, which is warmed in an iron skillet amidst the smoldering wood at the base of the fire. It comes out as a perfect square topped with Maldon smoked sea salt, pieces of confit garlic, springs of rosemary, and other fresh herbs. It somehow smells just like the sea breezes on the coast of Italy and like the Umbrian woods. There is also a dish of savory croquette with a risotto base called suppli al telefono, a Roman street food. Derry chose to make hers in a classic style that has been around since the late 1800s, including chicken liver (that’s the suppli, or surprise, bite in the fried ball), pork sausage, and pomodoro sauce. The telefono style refers to a melted knob of mozzarella in the ball that pulls for a gratifying stretch of cheese when it is ripped apart.

Derry also whips up a bowl of coniglio alla gricia, another Roman dish. It’s a pasta done similarly to carbonara, sans the eggs, and her version incorporates braised rabbit. Using ham fat (guanciale) instead, the warm pasta water and pecorino Romano form a savory, cheese-filled sauce that coats every bite. As we wait for Cabrera to finish grilling a whole branzino over the fire, Derry turns to me and, with a twinkle in her eye, says, “I heard you interviewed Bobby Flay for this story.”

That’s true — in a manner of speaking. Flay is even busier than Derry with his filming schedule so our conversation happened over email and was filtered through Food Network PR flacks. Flay says he found Derry while searching for new chefs for Bobby’s Triple Threat. “I was given Tiffany’s name by several people helping me scour the country looking to complete the team,” Flay says. “I flew down to Dallas, unannounced, with a colleague and we had a spectacular dinner at Roots Southern Table. After dinner, I invited Tiffany to sit with us and tell us her story and culinary journey. We were blown away by her cooking and just as impressed with her life experiences through food.”

The duo has worked together through three seasons of the show, and Flay says he brings her name up whenever the opportunity arises. That, Flay says, is because she’s consistently professional and “one of the best chefs out there.”

“Tiffany is certainly a friend besides being an important work partner,” Flay says. “It’s important to me that she knows I’m always available to her for anything she needs … [And] when Tiffany’s competing in the kitchen of Triple Threat, don’t even think about trying to have a conversation with her. She has one thing on her mind…. Destroying the competition!”

Over the past two years, Derry has mentioned in numerous conversations with Eater that being a Black woman on TV who owns her own restaurants is a point of pride. She says that many chefs make a living out of TV work, without owning a restaurant. In the same breath, she points to the lack of Black women in those roles on TV. She is one of a very few who manage to do both — and much more.

Flay hits on an important component of what makes Derry’s cooking so masterful when he talks about her ability to fuse cuisines together while still making the dishes sophisticated. Much of her menu at Radici is a study in classic Italian food, served the way Italians would eat it. Her servers have been trained to explain how to order at the new restaurant, sharing dishes family-style and going all in on a personal plate of pasta for a primi and a shared large dish or two for the secondi. They also underwent a pronunciation course, to make sure they’re all saying the names of the dishes and ingredients correctly. Neither of her Radici sous chefs have been to Italy, Derry says, and it made developing dishes, but particularly the meatballs, challenging.

“It’s not just being a good cook,” Derry says. “My chefs have to be more than that. They have to learn how to run the restaurant. We write out menu descriptions for front of the house, and they have to research where things come from and why it’s important.” At that point, Derry calls her other Radici sous, Robinson, over and asks her to walk through the pollo alla griglia. Robinson, who was in the back of the kitchen, had not overheard anything Derry said. She began by explaining how they chose Green Circle Chicken, a humanely raised bird that is fed surplus vegetables and regeneratively grown grains and allowed to roam freely on farms in Amish Pennsylvania. She also describes the testing process for the chickens in the dish before the wood-fired grill was put in, as well as the process for making the chicken jus poured over the panzanella it is served with, and the ingredients, aside from bread, in the dish. Of course, the chicken is spiced with Shef seasoning, plus smoked paprika, rosemary, salt, and pepper, to keep it simple but “herbaceous,” as Robinson says.

In addition to handling the front-of-house staff on opening night, her partner Foley oversees the restaurant’s construction and design. Foley lets guests lead his design, and says that he’s always thinking in terms of the function of the space. What’s bothering him on opening night is the trellis meant to separate the dining room from the chef’s counter for a quieter and more exclusive experience — it isn’t quite finished because they haven’t found the right plant solution. Installing and maintaining live vines feels unrealistic, but the fake ones just look so… fake. It’s all part of Foley’s approach to hospitality and franchising.

Opening Radici reads like a doubling down on T2D’s presence in Farmers Branch, a suburb just outside of 635. It’s a straight shot up from most of West Dallas with easy access from Grapevine, Carrollton, Las Colinas, and Addison. Foley and Derry have hacked a code that isn’t typically used in restaurants: They work in cities like Farmers Branch and DeSoto (the next site for Roots Chicken Shack), which want the development and cache that a fine dining restaurant by Derry can bring. The pair seek out support from the city, in the form of grants and businesses in mutually beneficial agreements. In Farmers Branch, Foley says the city’s partnership with the building landlord is part of a greater plan to build out that space and make it a destination.

Roots Chicken Shack in Plano is the result of a deal with the Legacy West food hall run by the Frontburner hospitality group, while the Austin location is inside an H-E-B. Foley says the latter partnership “accelerated the brand’s opportunity for franchising” because they were able to utilize H-E-B’s expertise to design and open the location. “Through those two locations, I think we learned what it would have taken [us], 10 locations to learn,” Foley says. In DeSoto, the pair utilized a land grant and lease structure in partnership with the city that allows Roots to pull together financing for the space that doesn’t require the franchisee — who they have not yet chosen — to put forward any money. Being free of the financial stipulation allows Derry and Foley to focus on finding experienced people who are traditionally edged out of franchising, namely Black women, with an eye toward creating — and rather than enhancing — generational wealth.

“There are a lot of municipalities that have franchisee development programs, and the question is are the students in [culinary] programs successfully positioned to onboard with a franchise?” Foley asks. He’s had conversations with Dallas College and the University of North Texas about creating a course that would address the opportunities in franchising. It’s one of a number of ways that Derry and Foley are exploring to mentor the next generation of chefs. Foley teaches classes on business and entrepreneurship at the Paul Quinn, a historically Black college in Dallas. Derry has taught courses at the Art Institutes in Houston and Dallas, served as a mentor to culinary students at Dallas College, and participated in their education programs. Foley serves on the industry advisory board for Dallas College’s culinary, pastry, and hospitality program. Those colleges are a pipeline for new and existing talent in Dallas right into the best kitchens in town.

“Tiffany and Tom are some of the most employee-focused operators that I know,” says Steve DeShazo, the senior director at the Office of Workforce Initiatives at Dallas College. “Tom, for years, has been persistent in trying to develop a way to offer personal and professional development learning to his employees through a Learning Management System designed specifically for restaurant employees.” DeShazo says Foley is working with the Texas Restaurant Association to make these professional development programs accessible to everyone. “They’re not just focused on their employees, they’re focused on all restaurant professionals.”

Foley says that the next frontier T2D Concepts will take on is mental health, which is a huge concern in the hospitality industry and one he feels isn’t being addressed “at the speed or scale it should be.” The company is partnering with the James Beard Foundation, Pepsi, Optimum, JP Morgan, and OpenTable to create a learning management platform to respond to employee needs for access to mental health care, and “give employees a chance to self-identify when they need assistance.”

“In the restaurant business, many operators encourage staff to leave their problems at the door when they start a shift, but this approach is incredibly dangerous,” Foley says. “We must foster a supportive culture that invites our team members to share their challenges and, in turn, provide resources that can help with those challenges.”

DeShazo also says T2D Concepts has gotten funding from the Texas Workforce Commission to get small business grants to further employee training. “We [at Dallas College] currently have [T2D] employees enrolled in restaurant management courses as they seek to acquire National Restaurant Association certifications.”

T2D’s thoughtfulness about creating opportunities seems to be what keeps employees there. Tevon Johnson, a sous at Roots, says that his dream job is not leaving the company to start his own thing. “My goal is always to be part of T2D,” he says, adding that he’d like to be an executive chef at Roots and keep helping to open new restaurants. “I have a 10-year plan that I’d like to do, but once it’s done I’d like to step away and open a bakery that is the T2D bakery, and take care of all its pastries.” It’s a sentiment that other employees echo — there is no dream to leave, just a hope to keep taking care of the work-family they’ve found.

That family is only going to get bigger, if Derry and Foley have their way. Working with Grand Prairie’s office of economic development, the two announced that a second location of Radici will open at EpicCentral, a 172-acre development with parks, entertainment, and restaurants that it hopes will become a destination for the Metroplex.

Two weeks after Radici opens, Eater checks in with Derry, who is about to head out to film another show. “As a chef, there’s nothing more exciting than opening a new restaurant,” Derry says. “We have been working on Radici for a while, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see it come to life. The first day we fired up the grill and it created the most tantalizing aroma, it became real. The support we’ve received from community has been incredible. We’re thankful to everyone who has come out so far, and can’t wait to welcome those who haven’t dined with us yet.”

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