When chef Francis Derby cooks, you can expect the unexpected. His career has been spent pushing himself to experiment and take on new techniques, ingredients, and dishes. His current ventures are meat-worshipping Cannibal Beer & Butcher and Cannibal in Gotham West Market, which he launched with restaurateur Christian Pappanicholas. Derby learned butchery and immersed himself in the art of charcuterie, and now has Spanish-style morcilla on the menu, along with dishes such as bone marrow brûlée with soft scrambed egg and marinated mushrooms, and a whole pig or lamb.
Raised on Long Island, New York, where his family had a duck farm, Derby joined the restaurant business as a teenager, washing dishes. A year later, he was a line cook and continued his way up the line as he progressed from restaurant to restaurant. At Manhattan’s Atlas, in 2001, with chef wunderkind Paul Liebrandt, Derby stuck a toe into the world of molecular gastronomy. He went full bore as part of chef Wylie Dufresne’s 2003 opening team at wd-50, which featured “American eclectic” food, then in 2005 cooked under Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, outside San Sebastián, Spain, with its 24-course meals of cutting-edge Basque food. And at Liebrandt’s Gilt, Derby was in charge of developing new menu concepts and techniques.
He opened Tailor Restaurant for former wd-50 pastry chef Sam Mason, worked as sous chef under David Chang at Momofuku Ssäm Bar (where, he says, “Tien Ho got me hooked on doing different pig heads”), and later became chef de cuisine at Shorty’s .32 under Josh Eden.
Now it’s all about the elements of meat, and Derby is as excited about pâtés, sausages, and making the perfect cut as he’s been about creating ethereal foams and deconstructed classics. “It’s a lot of studying,” he says.“I’m always learning.”