She still gets tense while watching Top Chef episodes.

Name: Tiffany Derry
Occupation: Chef, Top Chef alumna 

The Top Chef producers must have exchanged some serious high fives when they first watched Tiffany Derry's audition video a few years ago. The Texas-born chef was a fan favorite in the show's seventh season, and returned to finish fifth in the following year's all-star season. She's high-energy, laughs easily, and can she ever cook. I had a chane to meet Derry barely an hour after she landed in town this morning; earlier this week she also happened to announce she is leaving her chef  post at Dallas restaurant Private Social for some mysterious future projects.

On Thursday night night the chef headlines the announcement of a new partnership that will have culinary students from the Art Institute of Seattle cooking--and learning--at Trace and the W Hotel. (PS: The announcement event is free and a rep promised great food and drinks).

Here, a few questions for Tiffany Derry.

Welcome. What brings you to Seattle?

I am in town to work with the Trace restaurant and the Art Institute of Seattle. Tomorrow’s the big day when they’re announcing everything. I’m coming in to talk to the students and to tell them this is amazing for them. I think the most important part is that it’s in real time. You can teach things in school, then a year later you’re out in the workforce. They’re really trying to bridge that gap that’s in between.

How did you get involved with them?
I went to the Art Institute of Houston and taught at the Art Institute of Dallas, so I’m just happy to be in the mix. 

Is this your first time in town?
This is my first time here in Seattle. What do y’all call it for short? 

Hrrmmm…Seatown, I guess? And, hey—it’s even sunny.
That’s what everyone was saying as we got off the airplane! 

True or false: You will eat at Walrus and the Carpenter.
You know, I’m not sure. I didn’t Google this time; usually I Google. I probably will later on, or send out tweets asking where I should go in Seattle. That’s what I normally do. I did hear about Spinasse and Revel, so I looked at those menus online. [Ed. - Send ideas this way.]

What are your eating plans while you’re here?
Where do you go, what neighborhood, for Asian food? I’m in love with Asian cuisine. In love. Most people don’t know this about me until you really examine my menu. After Top Chef, everyone was like, "Why is this Asian influence on your menu?" I always had Asian influence. I know I’m from the south but I do have some other things that I do! 

Oh I’m so excited now. Any Asian late-night spots? I roll solo; I’ll go by myself; I don’t care. 

Have you been watching Top Chef Seattle?
I have. It’s been an intense season; it’s very different from the other seasons. It’s like Top Chef Texas, it has that same kind of feel where it starts with so many different people and it just gives the show a different vibe in the beginning. It’s that Survivor kind of vibe. 

If I watch it, I’m still very tense. The whole time. It’s so bad because I can’t stop my brain from thinking, “okay what would I do?” It’s really bad, and I know I’m not the only person that’s like this. 

What’s next for you careerwise?
I’m really excited I have a lot of new things in the works, things I can’t quite talk about yet. There are some TV things in the making and we’re trying to get it all squared away. I’m also doing some consulting for restaurants. And I want my own restaurant. That’s the thing certain people didn’t realize is, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I started at 15 and I never took a break. As for the idea of getting outside of the kitchen, there is no “getting outside of the kitchen” for me. I’ve had a business plan for the last two and a half years and I’ve pretty much stayed on task with it. In this business plan, plan I want five restaurants. I don’t want five fine-dining restaurants. I don’t want five large restaurants. I want five restaurants. I’m just making sure I keep my life on the path I’ve been working on.