Beaumont-native Tiffany Derry may be working in Dallas now, but before she was a Top Chef All-Star and fan favorite, Derry was a junior sous chef at Houston's Pesce while working on her culinary degree from the Art Institute of Houston.
Derry headed back to H-town on Thursday to create a one-of-a kind tasting menu at Pesce with executive chef Mark Holley. Through five courses (paired with wines from Dry Creek Vineyard), diners got a taste of her culinary sensibilities — simple presentations that are big on flavor — as well as her infectious personality.
Dinner opened with ribbons of yellow fin tuna draped over an avocado and ginger gelee with a hint of chile oil. The flavors were bold and came together in unexpected ways, while never overshadowing the raw, tangy goodness of the tuna.
The roasted baby beet salad was something of a wonder — I'm generally not a fan of either beet or pumpkin seeds, two of the main ingredients along with goat cheese mousse and mache. But in combination, the beets played nicely with the more earthy pumpkin for a very enjoyable bite. My only disappointment was a lack of personality in the cheese — I thought creme fraiche would have been a more spirited choice.
The third course, branzino with an ever-so-slightly-crispy skin, was fresh, perfectly cooked and truly delicious. It was only equaled by the butternut squash ravioli served alongside — Derry laughed that the pasta had taken her all day — but with a subtle flavor that melted in your mouth.
The true standout of the evening was a skate dish wrapped around a center of barbacoa. Both the dish and the meat were tender and the flavors together were exceptional. The only regret? No bread or other vehicle to dip into the broth.
Finishing with a sweetly restrained pineapple upside down cake and caramel cardamom ice cream, Derry talked about her appreciation for Pesce and all the opportunities she's had since working in that kitchen. And if her food is any indication, the title of Top Chef should never be taken likely — Ms. Derry has some serious skills.
How does she do on Top Chef All-Stars? She wouldn't say, but she did give us a hint.
"It's intense," Derry said, "but I'm a fighter, so stay tuned."