Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
As Top Chef: D.C. winds down, viewers have been privy to some rather nasty sniping between contestants -- not to mention a long term, negative association with any type of pea purées -- but a silver lining throughout has been cheftestant Tiffany Derry, of Beaumont, Texas. Tiffany was never spiteful, never practiced any underhanded backstabbing and was enormously proud of her culinary career beginning at IHOP (as she should be).
In what was one of the closest competitions in recent memory, Tiffany's downfall was her pan-seared halibut. She had hoped to use mussels to enhance the accompanying sauce -- but found them mysteriously frozen. She didn't make it to the finale in Singapore.
Tiffany spoke to Slashfood about those frozen mussels, her pancake-making skills and her favorite thing to cook these days at Go Fish Ocean Club, where she's executive chef.
Last night's elimination challenge seemed extremely close.
TD: Yeah, it was real close. Closer than some even realized. I felt like it was me the whole time. I thought I had more controversial things about my dish. And it was me! [laughs].
How does one approach conceptualizing a freeze-dried meal?
TD: It's funny that you're asking me this, because it was the biggest hold up for me. I think I took the challenge more literal than others. I was really caught up in "what would freeze dry well." The issue with having something with no bread crumbs and a little sugar -- it really took me for a loop. I should've cooked great food and let that be it. So it took me awhile to conceive my dish. But at the end of the day, they said leave that to the chemist and they figure it out.
Did you talk to each other about how to approach it?
TD: No, we didn't really talk about it. I really struggled to figure out what to put into it -- they said they could eat anything, so I definitely wanted some bold flavors. I wanted to blow them away with the flavor of the dish. Then I started thinking about curry, something that wouldn't overpower the fish and was luscious and velvety. I do a red curry and mussels at the restaurant and people tell me they can drink the sauce. They're like "can I get the sauce to go." It just kind of came from there.
I was confused on how the mussels came to be frozen.
TD: I feel like they didn't explain it to me very well! I went to the refrigerator and it froze everything that was on the first three shelves, which was part of my food. The mussels were hard as a rock. All my herbs were brown. The fish was the only thing that wasn't hard and frozen. And they wouldn't give me anymore mussels, so that was a no-go. It just felt like at that moment that this was not going to go well.
Over the course of the season, you had some very successful dishes that happened to be some form of stew. Are stews your thing?
TD: I didn't realize until this show [laughs]. And they were like "your stews and sauces are phenomenal!" I guess they really are. I should focus on them a little bit more. You know, I love sauces. Essentially, a stew is a sauce, so starting there, I love adding on flavors and controlling them.
This season has had it's fair share of drama, but you've steered clear of that scene. Are you not one for drama?
TD: No, I don't do drama. I went on this show with one thing in mind: to cook. I know that it's national TV and I have to represent. People are going to look at me as a role model. Even before this, I felt like I was to certain people. I didn't want to let down myself, come back and look at myself doing something crazy, something totally ridiculous and out of character. I represent my family and my friend and people who are proud of me.
I know you're proud of your IHOP roots. So the question is: how are your pancakes?
TD: I make a pretty mean pancake. One of the pancakes that I like is made with cream of wheat. I don't think they do that anymore, but they used to when I was there. I don't eat much breakfast, but I'm good at it.
Were you intimidated by any of the guest judges this season?
TD: Eric Ripert is one of the nicest people in the world. If he tells you something, you just stop and stare and say "yes chef, yes chef." I felt like he honestly cared. He'd ask people questions, he'd ask how they prepared. He listens. Anthony Bourdain, I think he's so awesome, because he's what I'd like to do. I'd like a cooking show and travel around the world; I'd so go with him and taste everything he tastes. I was so excited when is saw him. I probably did the nod with the head three times when I saw him.
What should I eat right now at Go Fish Ocean Club?
TD: I love the octopus and I love my crispy red snapper with crawfish and chorizo sausage. I actually did a play off it on the show, but this one is actually perfect -- I had every ingredient I could want.