Private Social might seem like an oxymoron, but the name references two different experiences within the glitzy McKinney Avenue space currently celebrating one year in business: Private, the sleek, polished dining room with cushy white booths where patrons hover over plates of duck fat-fried chicken, and Social, the always-buzzing, more casual lounge where Uptowners gather nightly for top-notch cocktails by barman Rocco Milano.
Chef and co-owner Tiffany Derry is a busy woman, besides that whole running an Uptown hotspot thing. She's calling from Manhattan in a rare stolen moment between prepping for the madhouse that is Top Chef Kitchen ("It's like opening a restaurant!" she exclaims, "the schedule is insane!") and hosting a radio show on Martha Stewart's Sirius station with the likes of fellow Top Chef Angelo Sosa and Austin darling Paul Qui. Despite the hectic pace, the 29 year old former Top Chef: D.C. contestant never stops smiling—you can hear it in her voice, with a slight twang that hints at her Beaumont, Texas roots.
First of all, congratulations on celebrating one year—a lot of restaurants don't make it this far. How's the first year been?
The first year has been very, very good. Dallas has received me well. Of course there's lots of things we can improve on, but we took a chance and just did it, you know? Opening a restaurant is not an easy thing to do, it's definitely a lot of work day in and day out.
You've had a lot of your Top Chef friends come in to help open the restaurant and to do special dinners. Any memorable moments?
Oh man, I think each time someone came down it was memorable. I have some of the best friends in the world, I really, really do think so. Some of my Top Chef buddies and I still stay so close, I talk to them all the time. Carla [Hall] coming down meant the world, Angelo [Sosa] coming, Kevin [Sbraga]... Each of us had our special moments. And honestly we didn't really do anything outside of the restaurant, and it was very different—you know, sometimes you have the guest chef coming in and they cook for you and you might get a picture or something, but I mean we were sitting down at the end of the night just talking. It was very very close and personal, and I loved it.
How was the process of getting reviewed by the big critics?
Actually I got a good review, but I was so nervous, oh my gosh! (laughs) It was a big deal, and I do care what people think. I wanted to hide under the table every time I heard hey, there's a new review coming out! But honestly, it was pretty good—the Dallas Morning News gave us a good review.
A lot of people complained about the acoustics in the dining room. What did you do to deal with that?
We had an issue in the beginning with sound. We did hear all the comments, especially D Magazine, they mentioned it five or six times. It was just so crowded and all the concrete and everything was just bouncing all that noise around so you could barely hear the server. We started making the change shortly after we opened but it took months, maybe until March or April to get it all installed. So it wasn't just recently, but maybe just now people are coming back around and noticing the change. We definitely recognized there was a problem and something had to be done, and it was very expensive to do that—it's just one of those things where you open and realize holy crap, it's really loud! So we did what we had to do to deal with it.
You just recently overhauled the menus, particularly the "Social" side with new, more casual offerings. Does this represent a new direction for Private Social, or are you just trying to keep things fresh?
Honestly we've actually done quite a few different menu changes since we opened. Social I haven't changed quite as much as Private, I probably change the Private menu every other month. But for the Social menu this time I decided to do a full overhaul, and I really wanted to get back to the small plates that we opened with—things that people can really share and enjoy.
Does it feel like its actually been a year?
The year has gone by SO fast! It's amazing, I can't believe that a year has gone by. It's been a great year though.
How do you think you've grown as a chef since opening Private Social? It's certainly not your first rodeo, you were the executive chef at Go Fish before ever being on Top Chef, but certainly you've got much more influence and control as a co-owner at Private Social.
Yeah, at Go Fish I was just the executive chef. At Private Social things are very different with the ownership role. Everything matters a lot more than they ever did before, and frankly that's how I ran every place—as if it was mine. But you're just a lot more invested, you just want everyone to walk away happy. I'm constantly looking at what I can do to improve. I want people to be happy, I want them to enjoy it, and you know, the truth of the matter is, everybody's not always gonna be happy. But at the end of the day I feel like I've done my part.
What does the future hold--what's coming in year two? Any new projects or expansion in the works?
Oh we're always looking for the right moment, the right place to do a PS2. We're not going to do something just to do it, it has to make sense for me and Patrick [Halbert, business partner]. But we've always got something going on. I'm out here in New York right now doing this Top Chef Kitchen stuff for the whole week, we sold out in 45 minutes doing lunch and dinner, our schedules are crazy. I've really enjoyed the radio hosting, that's something I might want to get into a bit more. But yes, I have a lot of things going on. Everyone wants to know, when's it coming, when's it coming?! (laughing) I'm working hard on it, but first there's got to be a plan and then we'll execute.
[Photo credit: Private Social]