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20 Questions

20 Questions: Joe Randall

The founder of the African American Chefs Hall of Fame shares his favorite things.

BY WORTH | 20 Questions | Jun 25, 2019
Joe Randall Illustration by Graham Smith

Longtime Savannah, Ga., resident Joe Randall—everyone calls him Chef Joe—has spent 50 years in the food industry and founded the African American Chefs Hall of Fame. He’s now a consulting partner at Good Times Jazz Bar & Restaurant in Savannah.

1. What are you reading?

I just finished The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, about Africans in the 18th century who were enslaved and ended up being taken to Nova Scotia. It was honest.

2. What are you watching?

A show called The Enemy Within, about a CIA agent. The Blacklist—I like that. My wife worked for the police department when I met her, so she and I enjoy those kinds of things together.

3. Your favorite city?

Savannah, because I’m here. If you asked me, do I have a favorite food town—that’s different.

4. Your favorite food town?

San Francisco, because I like Chinese, real Chinese, stuff you can’t find on the East Coast.

READ MORE: Editor’s Pick: Campton Place Restaurant, San Francisco

5. Favorite restaurant?

I enjoy eating, so it has to go by meal—I’m a breakfast guy. This morning I had two eggs over light, grits, a rasher of bacon, a biscuit, a piece of liver fried with onions and gravy.

6. Beer, wine or spirits?

Wine. I used to drink a lot of Rémy Martin, but I haven’t had a hard drink in 40 years or more.

7. How many days a year do you travel?

I don’t do much since I’ve been involved with this club. My daughter lives at 135th and Fifth in New York, and I visit her about twice a year.

8. Advice you give to young restaurateurs?

Try not to go into business undercapitalized—you’ve got to have enough money to survive till it turns.

9. Thing you wish more people knew about?

Well, this pertains to life. I was blessed to have a mother who taught me to love everybody. If you show care, you have joy in your life.

10. Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Just because you can make a steak $2 cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better. If you’re afraid to charge, go do something else.

11. Best piece of advice you’ve ever given?

Carry yourself so people like you, and then do the best doggone job that you can do.

READ MORE: 20 Questions: Dominique Crenn

12. What do you drive?

A 2002 Cadillac DeVille. It’s been paid for for 15 years. But it keeps runnin.

13. What does home mean to you?

Home is a place where you and the people that you love come together as a family.

14. Biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Just going from teenager to young adulthood—how to deal with the temptations of alcohol and drugs. I was a ball of fire—they used to say I wasn’t going to live to be 18.

15. What keeps you up at night?

Oh, I sleep in peace.

16. Your favorite philanthropy?

I work with foundations that try to help young people who want to do something in food service. I wouldn’t be where I was if somebody hadn’t loved me.

17. Who was your role model?

Chef Robert W. Lee, at the Harrisburger Hotel in Harrisburg, Pa. The first African American chef of a major property in central Pennsylvania.

18. Your best dish?

My crab cakes. Chef Lee taught me 50-something years ago, and I still make them the same way.

19. Your favorite thing?

Material things don’t mean a lot. My greatest joy is my wife and children.

20. How would you like to be remembered?

Just remember that I was a good cook.

See all past 20 Questions columns here.

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