Tastemaker: Catie Randazzo, chef and owner, Challah!

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Why she's a Tastemaker: Catie Randazzo is the kind of chef you hope catches on like a wildfire. She's passionate, humble, a perfectionist, eager to learn and mindful of her food sourcing. From her 2-year-old truck, she serves riffs on Jewish deli classics-a style she calls "Jew-ish"-like an addictive smoked salmon and lamb bacon sandwich, bright and lemony chicken salad and irresistible schmaltz fried potatoes. We're excited this Columbus native has plans to open a restaurant where she can expand her love for turning the unappealing into the appealing (her heart, tongue and cow tail specials sell out almost every time). In the meantime, we applaud her efforts to tighten the local culinary community through growing monthly Knife Fight chef battles.

Queen of dairy: She took her first job, at Dairy Queen, seriously. While others vied to make cones, Randazzo clamored to the burger conveyor belt. "I caught the bug at DQ," she says. "Fast food teaches you repetition and quality control."

Finding her place: Heading to Columbus Culinary Institute at age 27, Randazzo liked food but didn't understand to what depth. That changed when a three-month internship with farm-to-table chef Cathy Whims at Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, turned into a yearlong stay. It was here Randazzo first got the idea of owning a food truck.

Reality check: In 2012, Randazzo left for New York City, where she got her butt kicked working for chef Nate Smith at Allswell. After Randazzo referred to a quart of cauliflower puree as a pint (for the umpteenth time, she says), Smith drew a picture of the two measurements and told her to get it tattooed on her arm. "And then I did. After that, our relationship changed dramatically," she says. Soon promoted to junior sous chef, Randazzo was running brunch service when she decided to come home.

The chosen truck: Randazzo settled on the Challah! concept after being gifted the "Mile End Deli" cookbook. She'd always enjoyed pickling, brining and slow cooking, so she thought she'd give it a whirl, adding her own spin to create "Jew-ish" food. "I wanted to reinvent it, make it more innovative," she says.

Planting roots: Her eventual restaurant will revolve around a food term she's coined "local-scratch," meaning if she can't get it locally, she'll make it; and if she can't make it, she'll get it locally. "The food would be whatever I feel like making, whatever I'm inspired by," she says, adding her ultimate goal is to open a food education center for kids. "That's really my passion-working with kids and teaching them a skill set and helping them find their way, because I was lost for a really long time."

Early mindset: Growing up, Randazzo's mom made dishes, including pasta, from scratch, used organic ingredients and grew her own vegetables. "Trying to trade my lunch in elementary school was the worst," she says. "It was like pancakes with cottage cheese, tofu chicken fingers, fruit leather. No sugars, no processed food, nothing. It was very progressive."


Age: 33

Previous gigs: Nostrana (Portland, Oregon), Jury Room, Allswell (Brooklyn)

Off-night eats: "I love the Sycamore, and Short North Tavern on Monday nights for dollar tacos."

Go-to drink: Bulleit bourbon and a Miller High Life. "But I am not a hipster."

Guilty pleasure: Buffalo chicken wraps with ranch dressing and cucumbers

Favorite ingredient? Champagne vinegar and ground arbol chilies. "At brunch, anything you get will be topped with ground arbol chilies."