Call me a sucker for southern chefs like Tiffany Derry. I couldn't wait to watch her in the kitchen this season on Bravo's Top Chef All Stars, after growing to love her when she competed in Season 7.
So when I had a chance for a pre-elimination chat with her this week, you could say I was rather excited. Only hours before her final episode aired, she was teaching a cooking class at the Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon.
We all wanted to ask her if she ended up being named Top Chef, since the show is still airing and she is in the final four. But she was under contract to stay mum, and she did.
I learned later that night she was sent packing after coming up short in a conch elimination round.
"Tonight's challenge was the most fun and CRAZY; I mean crazy!" she laughed.
She wasn't kidding! I watched the show later that night.
Dropped onto a beach for a conch dinner with three and half hours to prepare it, the cheftestants suddenly realized there was no actual conch to cook. Instead, they had to grab a snorkel and go get it.
I asked if contestants are allowed to bring secret ingredients with them to the competition, and if so, what did she bring? She told me she didn't bring anything on Season 7, because she didn't know what to expect. For Season 8, she packed mole powder from Mexico, preserved lemons and a pressure cooker.
When I asked her if she had any advice for aspiring young chefs, she said, "I have plenty! Keep your head down and keep cooking. It's the same advice my teacher used to tell me."
"Don't chase money, perfect your craft and learn the skills you need in a restaurant," she added.
It's apparent that Tiffany is passionate about her food.
She made a fresh baby beet salad with goat cheese mousse first, and then, pictured below, prepared roasted halibut with chorizo sauce and fennel salad. An unusual, red wine-braised short rib and creamy polenta with fig and prosciutto dish followed. Her dessert was bananas foster.
I wish I could tell you how yummy it all tasted, but there were so many people there, those of us taking pictures missed out.
Tiffany's co-opening a restaurant in August called Private Social. The "private" end of the restaurant will offer a quiet dining room with a chef-driven menu, while the "social" area will feature louder music and diners can order from a menu of small plates to share.
I can't wait for the next time I'm in Dallas.