It was a big deal when Beaumont, Texas got its first IHOP. Since it was a small city with relatively few choices, a new restaurant close to their only mall was cause for celebration. One morning, however, one of the line cooks didn’t show up for work, leaving them critically short-staffed during the busiest times of the day. When the manager wondered what they were going to do, the other guys in the kitchen looked at each other. “Go get Tiffany,” one of them suggested.
Tiffany was a 16-year-old high school student, and one of the more popular servers. She’d been among the first to apply for a job there, and originally had wanted to work in the kitchen. Tiffany settled for server because, at the time, IHOP didn’t employ women as cooks. Nevertheless, on her breaks and whenever there was a lull in traffic, she’d pop back to the kitchen and bounce around the different stations, asking to be shown how to fold omelets and fry bacon. Bright and expressive with a loud, honest laugh, she was immediately likeable and a quick study. Officially, she wasn’t trained. But unofficially, Tiffany Derry had learned anyway and she’d been waiting for her opportunity.
She worked her first-ever shift on expo, the most complicated position in the restaurant and the heart of the kitchen. She called all the tickets, “dropped” all the pancakes, and took charge of the pace of the entire restaurant. Since it was the International House of Pancakes, pancakes alone were the largest job. At any time, a server might rush up with a correction to a dish already in progress, and Tiffany would have to slot it into an already moving train. Sometimes even the most prolific chefs who can work magic with nothing but a carrot can’t harness a chaotic expo.
“You have to be able to communicate effectively and be on top of everybody. Can you imagine? I’m 16, learning the hardest part of the kitchen first,” she recalls and smiles. “It was amazing. I loved it.”
Today, Tiffany Derry is a seasoned culinary master with stints on reality shows like Top Chef, Top Chef Junior, Bar Rescue and Hungry Investors under her belt and accolades from the various Dallas-based restaurants she has fostered over the years. These days, she pours her heart and soul into a stall at Plano’s Legacy Hall, Roots Chicken Shak.