Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Joe Randall
Black History Month gives us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans from all segments of society and culture – entertainment, science, art, education, music … and culinary.
Today, we honor the legacy of our esteemed podcast guest and Chef Lemon’s own mentor, Chef Joe Randall. Known as the “Dean of Southern Cuisine,” Chef Randall was previously executive chef at Cloister Restaurant in Buffalo, New York, and the Fishmarket in Baltimore, before settling in Savannah, Georgia, where he founded Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School, which was devoted to teaching the “gospel of authentic Southern cuisine.” He is co-author of A Taste of Heritage Cookbook, an homage to African American culinary achievement; co-founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance; and former chairperson of the board of the Edna Lewis Foundation. For his achievements in culinary excellence and his contributions to advancing the next generation of Black chefs, Chef Randall was honored as an inductee into the African American Chefs Hall of Fame.
But for all his culinary achievements, Chef Randall’s voice is felt most deeply through his rich storytelling about the Black cooks who established Southern food as the foundation of American culinary traditions.
“When we decided storytelling was going to be important to how we present the Black History Month program, I had no idea the stories of our present and past would be so beautifully shared by Chef Randall,” said food service director and Entrepreneurial Council member Trudy Halliman. “I could have listened to him talk for ages.”
“He brought alive history I was unfamiliar with – with such joy, reverence and pride,” added general manager and Entrepreneurial Council member Rhonda Blake. “I will share these with my granddaughter.”
“Hearing Chef Randall speak with such reverence about the foods I grew up eating in the Georgia lowcountry gave me permission to celebrate the culinary traditions I love so deeply,” shared Entrepreneurial Council member Julie Nattis, “—in moderation.”
“Chef Randall’s ability to walk us through the history of American cuisine and the contribution of Black culinarians and culture was amazing,” said senior director of human resources and Entrepreneurial Council member Erica Lee, whose memory of her mother’s Southern cooking was sparked by Chef Randall’s storytelling. “His knowledge and perspective challenged my own confidence in what I knew in a way that made me want to know more and do the work to ensure that the influence that Black cuisine is shared and remembered for generations to come.”
Chef Randall was born in 1946 to a physician and homemaker in Pennsylvania. Chef Randall’s mother was Southern, so the foods she cooked in his childhood home often had Southern influences – influences he was exposed to again in 1963 when the Air Force stationed him in Albany, Georgia, where his culinary career began. He rose through the ranks of the Air Force before returning to Pennsylvania to help care for his mother after his father’s death. It was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that his career took off under the tutelage of Robert W. Lee, the first Black executive chef at Harrisburger Hotel. He worked for two years as an apprentice to Lee before earning a job with him, and he learned more than just fine cooking – he learned how to run a business. The lessons Chef Randall learned from Lee – a people person, a kitchen manager, a chef who knew how to turn a profit – set the foundation for Randall’s lifelong commitment to mentoring Black chefs, including our own Chef Lemon.
“I'm incredibly grateful to Chef Joe Randall for his commitment and loyalty as my friend and mentor,” said corporate division chef and Entrepreneurial Council member Michael Lemon. “We met at the very first Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in South Carolina, which was attended by some of the best Black chefs in the country. The whole event was exhilarating, but during that time, I needed a push to jumpstart my career, so what I remember most was the advice Chef Randall gave me that weekend, which included not just culinary but also business advice. He really is committed to the economic advancement of Black chefs; he has spent his life working tirelessly to lift us up and get us our due – since long before being a celebrity chef was a vaunted profession.”
Advice from Chef Joe Randall:
- Find out who the best chef in the city is, where they are, and go work for them.
- Always carry your resume when meeting other culinary professionals.
- Always use quality ingredients.
- Southern cuisine is the true American cuisine, developed from rich traditions by Black cooks. Treat the foods and their traditions with respect. Don’t undervalue the foods or cuisine. Get back to using the best ingredients at all times
Cajun Chicken Stew with Okra, Sweet Potato Waffles
Our dish with all the best ingredients honoring Chef Randall was selected by Chef Lemon from Randall’s own menu at Good Times Jazz Bar and Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.
|For Chicken Stew:|
|1 tsp. smoked paprika|
|1/4 tsp. ground allspice|
|1/2 tsp. ground thyme|
|1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper|
|1/2 tsp. salt|
|1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed|
|1 1/2 tsp. olive oil|
|1 small yellow onion, diced|
|2 oz. carrots, diced|
|2 oz. celery, diced|
|1 tbsp. garlic, minced|
|2 tbsp. unsalted butter|
|2 tbsp. flour|
|1 c. chicken stock|
|4 oz. green bell peppers, chopped|
|1 bay leaf|
|1 c. tomatoes, diced|
|6 oz. okra, frozen|
|1/4 tsp. salt|
|2 tbsp. parsley, chopped|
|For Sweet Potato Waffles:|
|2 c. mashed sweet potato|
|6 eggs, separated|
|1/2 c. brown sugar|
|2 tsp. vanilla extract|
|1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg|
|1 c. melted butter|
|3 c. milk|
|4 c. flour|
|2 tsp. baking powder|
|1 tsp. salt|
|1/2 c. sugar|
For the Chicken Stew:
- Marinate chicken with half of the spice blend and the olive oil, at least 2 hours to overnight.
- In a hot pan sear marinated chicken on both sides. Remove chicken.
- Leave the residual oil from the chicken in the pan. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
- Add butter and melt. Add the flour and make a roux, cook stirring for 3 minutes until flour is cooked.
- Add remaining seasoning blend (from step 1) and chicken stock blended in.
- Add the bay leaves, green peppers, diced tomatoes, okra, and seared chicken.
- Cover, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
- Season with salt. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.
For the Sweet Potato Waffles:
- Puree the sweet potatoes and combine egg yolks, brown sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg in a mixer. Slowly add in the melted butter and milk.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the liquid mixture slowly and stir until the batter is thickened.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks appear. Add in the sugar and continue to beat.
- Fold the egg whites into the sweet potato mixture.
- Prepare the waffles in a hot waffle iron.
Interested in reading more about FLIK's celebration of Black History Month? Check out related posts here:
- A Path Forward
- FLIK x Black History Month: On Rice & Roots
- Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Hercules Posey
- How Black Chefs Shaped American Cuisine
- Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Leah Chase
- The Culture of Food as Medicine
- Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Patrick Clark
- The Story of Soul Food
- Chef Joe Randall
- Inductees: Joe Randall, African American Chefs Hall of Fame
- Where Are the Black Chefs?, PBS.org
- The Connoisseurs of Cuisine, PBS.org
- Meet Chef Joe Randall of Southern Foodways Alliance, Southern Living
- SFA Founders Oral History Project, Southern Foodways Alliance
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