After five years at the helm of The Cannibal — turning the brand into a destination for all things meat — chef Francis Derby is leaving the group in May. Derby, who came on as a consulting chef then took the role of culinary director, said it’s time to focus on new pursuits.
“I want to take all I’ve learned over the years and put it together,” he says. Derby hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll open his own place or helm a restaurant group, though he’s in discussions.
“When you’re running four restaurants you have to step away from that first,” he says, citing a need to refocus after the day to day of running two restaurants and an annex in New York and an LA location. He’s determined that his next step is “fun and exciting,” and will resonate with the New York market. “It’s an exciting, terrifying time for me right now.”
Derby joined Christian Pappanicholas and Cory Lane nine months into the opening of the first New York location of Cannibal and helped transform the butcher/beer shop into a full-blown restaurant. In his tenure, he moved to LA to open the Culver City location, steered the opening of the annex in Gotham West, and helped in converting the original location into Cannibal Liquor House, with the original relocating next door.
Having won the much watched meat competition Cochon 555 and landing glowing reviews from critics like Jonathan Gold, Derby has earned the respect of the restaurant industry. His experience stretches back to Atlas — and later Gilt — with Paul Liebrandt, followed by WD-50 and Mugaritz in Spain early in his career. He was chef de cuisine for Momofuku Ssam Bar, then did an about-face and doubled back to shore up on more traditional dishes and techniques, as well as sharpening his skills in running restaurants.
Originally from Bellport, Long Island, Derby notes he’s been cooking for over 25 years and is about to turn 40. The industry has changed a lot from his early days, but he’s not griping. “We’re smarter and better at restaurants,” he says. “You have to be to remain relevant here in New York.”
As far as when exactly he’ll leave the company, he said he didn’t have a firm date yet, but he points to late May. “I want to see it off right.” Until then, he’s planning on “burying himself in the kitchen. Besides,” he says, “we just got ramps.”