Tiffany Derry and Tom Foley at a table.
Alyssa Vincent

Six years ago, Tiffany Derry and Tom Foley founded T2D Concepts.

How 'Top Chef' Fan Favorite Tiffany Derry is Redefining Southern Cuisine

Roots Southern Table has already become an industry darling.

On paper, Tiffany Derry and Tom Foley couldn’t be more different. Originally from Louisiana and then Texas, Derry is a “Top Chef” alum and fan favorite with an uncanny knack for building dishes from scratch and blending cuisines. Foley, on the other hand, is an attorney turned businessman and university professor with a nascent “New York sense of humor.”

But in terms of values and business mission, the two are perfectly aligned. Six years ago, they founded T2D Concepts, a hospitality/retail group that encompasses apparel, a spice line, and a growing collection of restaurants. The latest, Roots Southern Table, opened in Farmers Branch, Texas, last June, and has already become an industry darling. The restaurant clinched a James Beard Foundation nomination for Best New Restaurant, while Derry was a finalist in the Best Chef: Texas category.

“There was always the desire to have a full-service restaurant where, No. 1, I could play,” Derry says with a laugh. “It allows people to gather at the table. It’s a place where you have common ground.”

Alyssa Vincent

Derry’s favorite dish is My Mother’s Gumbo.

At face value, Roots Southern Table may seem like another elevated take on Southern classics; the menu includes the requisite shrimp and grits, cornbread, and hoppin’ johns, but, true to its name, the restaurant’s roots run much deeper. Southern cuisine is often presented as a blend of English and African influences, but as Derry has uncovered in her career, so many other global traditions come into play.

Spanish paella translated into gumbo while the prevalence of andouille and other sausages from France and Germany also worked their way into Southern cooking. Even seafood-centric Vietnamese cuisine entered the mix. And while Derry’s native Louisiana has long embraced its multicultural identity, other parts of the South have yet to follow suit.

“The way I approach Southern cuisine is seeing everything that’s abundant in those areas and those people. So if you think of Southern food as just fried chicken, mac and cheese, and comfort Southern, then that allows us to truly display the global influences that have been part of Southern cuisine for a very long time,” she says.

Alyssa Vincent

Dishes like the Black Eyed Pea Hummus (one of Foley’s favorites) bring global flair to Southern Dishes.

The menu has nary a mac and cheese in sight, and its version of fried chicken isn’t fried in canola or peanut oil, but rather duck fat. In fact, the Duck Fat–Fried Chicken is the cornerstone of T2D’s other concept, Roots Chicken Shak, a fast casual with food hall units in Plano and Austin, Texas, and a forthcoming standalone location in DeSoto.

Other menu standouts include Black Eyed Pea Hummus (a favorite of Foley’s), Grilled Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Texas Redfish (chargrilled harissa redfish with crawfish fried rice), and Jerk Lamb Chops. Derry’s go-to is My Mother’s Gumbo, with chicken, Zummo’s Sausage, shrimp, blue crab, filé (sassafras) powder, and herb rice.

“It’s a family recipe that I have sort of tweaked. I laugh because we call it My Mother’s Gumbo, and my mom sends me messages saying, ‘Can I get my gumbo recipe?’ But I tell her, ‘Mom, you’re not going to want to do all that work; you’re not making all those stocks,’” Derry says. “I feel like gumbo, when done right, feels like love.”

That warmth carries over to the restaurant itself. Derry says she doesn’t want Roots Southern Table to be a special occasion–only destination, but rather one that guests will visit often and instantly feel welcome.

The open plan is minimalistic but not without character. Cream-colored walls are complemented by marble tabletops and gray furniture while sunflower-filled vases and tilework enliven the space.

“We tried to design the restaurant in a way that matches the menu so it harkens back to some traditional components of Southern style. It has a little bit of a modern flair,” Foley says.

“If you think of Southern food as just fried chicken, mac and cheese, and comfort Southern, then that allows us to truly display the global influences that have been part of Southern cuisine for a very long time.”

Original artwork dot the walls. Foley points out one piece in particular that was painted by a young African American man. The painting shows a tilted Oscar and hints at the challenges Black artists face.

“There’s also subtle messaging around our mission of everyone having a sense of belonging and telling stories that may not have been told before,” Foley says. “What we want to do is inspire conversation. That inspiration may change your viewpoint; it may influence your viewpoint; it may confirm your viewpoint.”

Starting conversations and raising awareness around race, gender, and equity extends beyond the restaurant’s four walls. Both Derry and Foley want their business to serve not only as an example to other women of color but also as a vehicle to achieve their entrepreneurial goals. Roots Chicken Shak is hard at work building a franchise system that would target underrepresented groups.

Alyssa Vincent

Roots Southern Table in Flower Branch, Texas

“Although women of color are the fastest growing segment of small businesses, their top-line revenue isn’t creating an opportunity for wealth generation,” Foley says. “So what are the opportunities that are available to [a woman of color]? They’re very limited based on our current system, yet she may be the best operator of a restaurant. She was just never empowered to do it. Tiffany and I like to think we can work to solve that problem.”

As of now, the franchising arm of T2D rests solely on its fast-casual concept. Roots Southern Table remains a single-location independent, but a smirk from both Derry and Foley suggests the full-service restaurant might someday pursue a similar path. In the meantime, the partners hope Derry’s own story will galvanize others to forge ahead.

“We have to make sure that No. 1, people can see and hear this story, but also that we’re doing something to create opportunities for those who come after us,” Derry says. “And it’s not about just me; it’s not about Tom; it’s not about T2D. It’s about what we’re doing with that stage that we have right now.”

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