Southern Cooking goes global at ‘Top Chef’ candidate Tiffany Derry’s new restaurant – Texas Monthly
I had been hanging around for weeks, with every intention of heading to the Dallas area to visit Chef Tiffany Derry’s up-and-coming new restaurant, Roots Southern Table, which opened in June. Then, on the morning of October 12, as I lazily checked the New York Times website, I saw, to my horror, that the newspaper had included Roots in their list of fifty American restaurants they were excited about. Shit ! I fumed. Now I will never have a reservation!
I went to the Roots website to assess the damage and found, miraculously, that the news had not yet gone viral and that reservations were still available for the foreseeable future. True, they were at five o’clock, but beggars. . . you know the rest. And so it was that, several successive nights a few weeks later, two groups of friends and I found ourselves parking for free and walking a few dozen paces to the Roots front door. That kind of convenience is one of the distinct pleasures of having an early dinner at a restaurant twenty miles north of central Dallas in the satellite town of Farmers Branch.
We settled in and went through the menu, which was delivered by a gracious, masked waiter, then found ourselves overhearing a few conversations nearby. The gossip revealed that other guests have known Derry since his 2010 stint on Bravo season seven. Excellent chef (The courageous candidate from Texas took fifth place overall, and her jokes and easy laughter earned her the Fan Favorite award). I suspected that a few of the people in the room might have visited Private Social, the upscale Dallas restaurant she co-owned from 2011 to 2013. Chicken at Roots Chicken Shak, her down-proof fast food stand pandemics, with locations in Plano and Austin.
Roots – the full-scale restaurant, not the chicken joints – turns out to be an inviting place to spend an evening. It’s not quiet when it’s full, but it’s not noisier than most restaurants these days. It’s also not as folkloristic as I thought it would be. Considering the name, I expected farmhouse furniture and dish towels. Instead, it’s upscale in a casual way, with white marble-patterned table tops; spare and attractive slate gray chairs; and a graceful charcoal sketch of a woman’s profile hanging near the entrance. The only details that seemed remote from the countryside were little glass milk bottles on each table, filled with fresh flowers.
Another waiter showed up shortly after to take our order, and we took care of appeasing hunger with the first item in the Down Home Roots appetizer section of the menu: cast iron cornbread. Each golden casserole was topped with a deeply browned crust anointed with a drizzle of that Southern staple, Steen’s cane syrup. The stone-ground cornmeal comes from Homestead Gristmill in Waco, and the dish came with a dollop of strawberry and rhubarb jam. I spread a bit of it on a damp square, but found I preferred the bread with just a dash of smoked mesquite butter.
As anyone who eats out (or owns a restaurant) often knows, a few strategically chosen words on a menu can make a dish. At Roots, I guess the name “My Mother’s Gumbo” is the key to the restaurant’s success (just kidding, but not by much; Derry says the gumbo has generated “the most press I’ve ever seen”). The bowl that was placed in front of us has kept its promises. It was rich in spun and finely chopped okra and swirled chunks of dark meat chicken, succulent shrimp, one or two delicate crab legs, and smoked Zummo sausages (produced in Beaumont, where Derry grew up; the rest of his extended clan lives in the Baton Rouge area, two and a half hours to the east). The okra was thin, its reddish brown (“but not as dark as the New Orleans style,” says Derry). As for the name of the dish, she says, her mother has always been the designated okra producer at family gatherings because “her recipe just hits the flavor every time.”
At this point, we had checked two of the four options on the Down Home menu, so I ordered a third: fried shrimp and oatmeal. I have something to say about it: Wow ! Well, actually two words: Wow ! and Wow! At first I thought the waiter had accidentally brought us silent puppies; the shrimp had been finely chopped, rolled into small, voluminous balls with jalapeño cheese grits, beaten, then fried. They were accompanied by a solid tomato sausage sauce (oddly called a stew). After a few bites, I was struck by how the compulsively oozing and edible chunks looked suspiciously like arancini, Italy’s famous fried rice and cheese balls. When I asked Derry, she said, “Exactly. She had given the Italian specialty a southern makeover.
In the Modern Roots section, another entry caught our eye: the black-eyed pea hummus. Remember the craze a few years ago for “three-way beets” or “four-way chocolate”? (Pastry chefs in particular were passionate about the idea.) Derry applied the notion to black-eyed peas. Part one is a whole, tender black-eyed pea salad with dressing (a tribute to our beloved Texas caviar). The second part is a tahini lemon rich pea puree hummus (I thought it was sweeter and smoother than all but the best versions). Part three is a collection of crispy pea fritters. Derry explains that this is his version of akara, the tasty fried street food cupcakes that originated in West Africa and have now spread to the Caribbean and many other parts of the world. world. (“We soak and mix the peas with onion and a little Scotch Bonnet pepper, then avoid the batter like donut holes.”)
Somehow the appetizers only made us hungrier, so now seemed like the right time to check out Derry’s two most famous dishes: French fries and chicken. family style fried, both cooked in duck fat. (“I’m ordering fat from the pan,” she says.) They came out piping hot from the fryer, and the large chicken pieces in particular were a hit with the connoisseurs in our group who are connoisseurs of the fryer. frying. (Me, I’ll stick with the old-fashioned pan.)
If you’re into fried chicken, try to save some space, as one of the most impressive cooks happens with the range of appetizers that change frequently. Sea scallops, lightly caramelized on top and bottom, almost quivered when I shook the plate. A friend’s halibut fillet crumbled into silky, snow-white shards. Had a tender steak-culotte (another name for top sirloin) and jerk seasoned and tangy pink lamb chops with allspice, thyme and a variety of other herbs.
The nicest surprise was the bounty of beautifully fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts that accompanied each entree, either alone, as a mixture or as a condiment. The abundance was so overwhelming that after our two dinners at Roots, I looked at the menu and photos on my iPhone and made a list of what appeared on our plates. Are you ready? Potatoes, turnips, crowder peas, black eye peas, cucumber, celery, sweet corn, tomatoes, green pepper, chili, radish, mushrooms, lima beans, okra, spring onions, pickled peppers, rhubarb, strawberries, sweet potatoes , mango, pecans and green vegetables galore. Oh, and tons of onions and garlic for the seasoning. Even more impressive than the sheer quantity was Derry’s rejection of the region’s traditional practice of cooking vegetables to death and his commitment to giving everyone the respect they deserve.
The word on Tiffany Derry is that she is the queen of duck fat and chicken fried potatoes. And she is. Both dishes have been eaten by thousands of people and got him through the good times and the bad. But with the opening of Roots Southern Table, it has definitely overtaken the deep fryer. Having engaged in numerous globetrotters, she takes Southern cuisine to places she has never known before, as well as places essential to her origins. She draws inspiration from and transforms recipes from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean and beyond and reminds us of how very global Southern cuisine was in its early days, when slaves and immigrants alike. flocked to New Orleans and spread their culinary traditions throughout the region. . With his imagination and business acumen, Derry is well positioned to move from the local to the broader dining scene, making Roots a destination not only for locals but travelers from across Texas and Moreover.
South Roots Table
13050 Bee, Farmers’ Directorate
D Tue – Sun
Open on June 18, 2021
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Texas monthly with the title “When the South meets the world”. Subscribe today.