Mike Randolph thought he would go into public service -- but he didn't think it would take the shape that it did.
"I went to school for political science," the chef and owner of Público (6679 Delmar Boulevard; 314-833-5780) explains. "I did an internship, but I couldn't get the job I wanted. I had all of this energy I wanted to use on the ground running campaigns, but I realized that wasn't going to happen."
Randolph recalls his first job as a soda jerk at a resort in Michigan -- he loved the controlled chaos of the restaurant business, but didn't consider it a viable career path. When his political aspirations fell through, though, he realized that his calling may have been in the kitchen all along and enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute.
After graduating from culinary school, Randolph worked at the acclaimed Moto in Chicago. He moved to St. Louis in 2006 to be close to his wife's family and immediately recognized that the town's Neapolitan pizza void.
"When I opened the Good Pie in midtown, we were the only Neapolitan-style pizzeria in town," Randolph explains. "I also noticed that there weren't that many mom-and-pop breakfast spots either, so that's how I decided to open Half & Half."
The overwhelming success of the Good Pie and Half & Half have allowed Randolph to experiment with several other concepts: Little Country Gentleman and MEDIAnoche, both of which have closed, and now Público. "The point is to be an exploration of food," Randolph says. "My goal is to innovate, not to replicate what others are doing."
Randolph took a break from cooking up his tasting menus at Público to share his thoughts on the St. Louis dining scene, Peppermint Patties and why he is public enemy No. 1 come the September pennant race.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I'm actually from Cincinnati, so please be nice. I've had to endure being a Reds fan my whole life.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Coffee in nearly any form.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? To play baseball like Johnny Bench and offer my services to the Reds.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Small businesses run by passionate people. I think that it's important for the St. Louis community to feel like they have the opportunity to get to know a chef, a waiter, a bartender. Smaller places allow the people both in the kitchen and front of the house to share their story and make a real connection with the diner.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Predictable, but let's say if I get a night off, we are usually at one of Gerard (Craft)'s restaurants.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Mike Marquard from Blueprint Coffee is doing great things and he's really talented and passionate.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Époisses cheese. It's constantly evolving, but always good.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? The St. Louis food scene continues to evolve towards chef-driven restaurants and away from national chains. We're showcasing that elevated food doesn't have to be fine dining. Both the old and new, from corned beef at Protzel's to an oyster roll at Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. or ribs at Vernon's [BBQ & Catering], our collective chef community is bridging that gap between chains and fine dining with just really great, approachable food.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Hard to say; I kind of like the challenge of cooking with anything.
What is your after-work hangout? Those days are gone. You will find me in bed watching TV with my wife Liz.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Liver, pretty much all liver.
What would be your last meal on earth? Skyline chili (Cincinnati classic), a 4-way with onion and 2 cheese coneys with oyster crackers and a York Peppermint Patty on the way out the door.