On January 7, chefs and longtime supporters came together to celebrate chef Joseph Randall’s retirement after 50 years in the industry. We wanted to catch up to the Dean of Southern Cuisine to talk about career highlights, what’s next after retirement and wisdom he passes down to the next generation of chefs.
There are a lot of successes and accomplishments that you have shared with family, friends and supporters over your career. Which ones stand out the most in your mind that are truly a part of your legacy?
The wonderful opportunity that I had to be in the kitchen with wonderful chefs like Leah Chase, Edna Lewis, Patrick Clark and many others in the 80s, 90s and most recently with the younger chefs coming along today.
Retirement must have been bittersweet for you being a veteran in the industry for more than 50 years. What kept you going all these years and when did you decide it was time to start your latest chapter, retirement?
What kept me going all these years was seeing the look of enjoyment on the faces of the clients while enjoying what was prepared. I always said that I would stop cooking if the clients no longer enjoyed the experience. It never happened (smile).
My health has been an issue for the past year, forcing me to close for a couple of months during the early part of the year. After returning to work, I found myself taking breaks between each cooking course which was unheard of. What came easy for me became a day-to-day challenge. My wife Barbara and I decided it would be best for us to close down at the end of the year.
After sharing the decision with fellow chefs, they convinced me to continue the legacy by keeping the school open by doing a class occasionally. The fellow chefs have agreed to teach classes from time to time.
What is next for you and the legacy of the Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School?
After a brief retirement, I will still be active in the Savannah community and to that end will dedicate myself to the African American Chefs Hall of Fame. Along with my culinary friends, we will keep the facility at 5409 Waters Avenue open for periodic cooking demonstrations and to recognize the history and impact of black chefs on American cuisine as The African American Chefs Hall of Fame.
The African American Chefs Hall of Fame is a recognition program that celebrates the living history of African-American chefs and highlights those individuals whose extraordinary contributions have made American cuisine possible.
It is essential that we know our history. Most of African-American history has been lost or it was written as if African- American chefs were invisible. It is up to The African American Chefs Hall of Fame to preserve that history. To tell the story better than it has been told before. Memorializing stories of great African-American chefs in the new hall of fame. Pioneers who came first and we rest and stand on the shoulders of those African-American chefs who came before us. This will be a place that showcases those chefs.
Tell us about your retirement celebration that took place on January 7. Who was there, the menu, venue, highlights, etc.
I celebrated my retirement and the closing of Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School at the Savannah Hyatt Regency with a dinner that was well attended by nearly 150 friends, cooking school clients, former School of Restaurant Management students from Southern California and culinary colleagues from Savannah, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Florida, South Carolina and beyond.
The menu included recipes from my cooking school what were prepared by guest chefs.
- Hors d’oeuvres – Chef Earlest Bell (Orlando), Chef Dwight Evans (Chicago), Chef Charley Hatney (Atlanta): Bacon wrapped Wild Georgia Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce, Herb Crusted Lamb Chops with Raspberry Chipotle Glaze, Sautéed Shrimp Cakes with Dill Mustard Sauce & Olive Crostini
- Appetizer – Chef Marvin Woods (Atlanta): Savannah Crab Cakes with Herb Mustard Aioli Sauce
- Soup Course -Chef Jerome Grant (Washington, DC) Shrimp and Corn Chowder
- First Course – Chef Kevin Mitchell (Charleston): Pan Roasted Red Snapper on Braised Collard Greens
- Salad Course – Chef Duane Nutter (Mobile): Sliced Cherry Tomatoes, Sliced Red Onions, Crumbled Fresh Bacon Bits, Bleu Cheese & Roasted Pecans on Butter Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing
- Entrée – Chef Bernard Carmouche (Orlando) and chef Timothy Dean (Washington, DC): Beef Wellington with Red Wine Sauce (Petite Filet Mignon topped with Mushroom Duxelle wrapped in Puff Pastry), Duchess Potatoes & Fresh Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
- Dessert Course – Chef Joe Randall: Southern Pound Cake with Fresh Berries & Chantilly Cream
What advice would you tell your younger self who started in this industry 50 years ago?
Get the best education that I could get. A culinary school plus an apprenticeship under an extraordinary good chef. I would want to prove myself worthy so he would be willing to train me so I would become as good if not better than him.
What words of wisdom do you have for those following their passion for food in the culinary industry now and in the future?
Obtain the best education as possible. Study at a good culinary school plus apprentice under an extraordinary good chef.
What do you see in the future for Blacks in the industry?
The future is what you make of it. It is still hard work and long hours. If you have a passion for it and enjoy serving others, then set your goals and don’t look back.
Photo credits: John Carrington Photography and Lloyd Johnson