On January 28, chef Tiffany Derry worked her last shift at Private Social, the Uptown Dallas restaurant that she'd opened in 2011 with partners Andy Austin and Patrick Halbert. Austin left the restaurant in 2012. That left Halbert with the only pair of keys and what seemed to be a questionable future.
Kaanache is a firm believer in destiny, and her arrival at Private Social falls squarely into that category. She and Halbert came together in a partnership whose timing was as quick as it was fortuitous.
Kaanache has worked in some of the most famous kitchens in the world, including French Laundry in Napa and Alinea in Chicago. She spent two years at El Bulli, the molecular gastronomy temple in Spain.
"I came here to eat, maybe a year ago," she says. "The second time, it was a huge, crazy dinner. I sat at that table with Stephan Pyles and my right-hand man, Charles Accivatti. I looked around and said, 'Who is the genius behind this restaurant?' It didn't seem like Dallas. Even the tables, they reminded me of Alinea. It all happened so quickly."
Kaanache grew up in Spain and has worked in some of the most famous kitchens in the world, including French Laundry in Napa Valley, Alinea in Chicago and Noma in Copenhagen. She spent two years at El Bulli, the molecular gastronomy temple in Spain; it shut down in 2011.
More recently, she's been a consulting chef, working with other chefs and restaurateurs such as Stephan Pyles, with whom she worked on the menu for Stampede 66. Her other Dallas connection is Jan Miller, her book agent.
"I've been traveling last two years," she says. "It's been a way of finding freedom in my brain. It gave me the chance to make others successful and practice for myself.
"My soul is everywhere that I make my home. I'm not attached to things. But you have to find wherever you think you can bring something different. I like to be inside a restaurant, to be every day in your place. My dream was always to wear the blue apron and talk to the guests."
Halbert felt like he and Kaanache clicked when they met a year ago. "It happened quickly once it was clear that Tiffany was planning on leaving," he says. "I couldn't have imagined it would work out so well. It's beyond exciting to have a chef who's worked in a Michelin restaurant in the kitchen."
Not just a chef but a female chef. "I'm excited to provide her with a platform," Halbert says. "Najat is going to come up with things that will take Dallas' dining scene to a whole new level. It's a treat to be a part of it."
Work is underway on a menu, although they won't release any information about it, other than the fact that Kaanache has been working in the kitchen from 9 am to 1 am every day.
"In my cooking, I try to understand the product and to use Mother Nature," she says. "I like playing in the bar, because I like food and cocktails. I want to make a place to open your senses to flavor, aroma, texture.
"The most important thing in the world is food. It's the only way you can travel in time and remember many memories. When I was young, we ate what we had. Four times a week we had beans, homemade bread and olive oil from my grandmother. I love eggs. They're not what they used to be. I would pay anything to go back to my grandmother's eggs."
This will be the first time she rules the roost, but she's not intimidated.
"I have a 6-year-old daughter," she says. "At El Bulli, I was the only momma in the kitchen. And, believe me, I demolished them."
Despite her expertise with molecular techniques, she says she won't use them at Private Social. "We won’t have a push-truck with nitro," she says. "Nitro is not new. What’s new is to be able to share something, understand the product, understand the guest."
And the reopening will be sooner rather than later. "The restaurant is here, we are here, why should we wait?" she says.