Columbus food truck chef Catie Randazzo of Challah talks TV's "Cutthroat Kitchen" and more

Abernathy Miller, Columbus Alive

Challah Food Truck owner Catie Randazzo didn't just take the path less traveled; she went off-roading.

"I woke up one morning and thought 'Fuck Catie, you have to get your shit together,'" Randazzo said during a mid-July interview at The Food Fort. "I was bartending at the time, and I didn't feel like my life had any direction, so I decided to go to the Columbus Culinary Institute. After that I moved to Portland; that's when I got 'bit by the food truck bug.'"

The food truck scene in Portland immediately impressed Randazzo. Not only were food truck chefs offering gourmet eats, they were also highly respected by foodies and traditional chefs alike. Randazzo wanted to stretch her culinary skills and craved the creative freedom a food truck could provide. However when she returned to Columbus in 2011, the food truck market wasn't ready … and neither was she.

"The food truck scene hadn't really taken off in Columbus by the time I moved back. I was still fresh in the culinary scene, so I decided to get more experience under my belt so I could make great food when I started my truck," Randazzo said. She started working at a now-defunct downtown restaurant and bar "which was a horrible shitshow. It was really unorganized and the quality of food was not what I was told it would be. It was a great learning experience in what I didn't want my business to be, and it's where I met [current Challah sous chef] Carly [Sifritt]."

After a disappointing first experience, Randazzo moved to New York City to sharpen her skills at Allswell in Williamsburg. When she returned a year later, Columbus' food truck scene had grown significantly; Randazzo was ready to launch her concept with Sifritt.

"I came back and the food truck scene was building this huge momentum, and it felt like the right time," Randazzo said. "My sister had given me a Jewish cookbook, and I realized there weren't any Jewish food trucks in Columbus so I decided to move forward with a Jewish-leaning menu. I worked so well with [Sifritt], I wanted to bring her on."

Though Randazzo had already cut her teeth at Allswell, the food truck industry proved to be an entirely different beast, leaving both Randazzo and Sifritt to wonder if the venture would work out at all. It wasn't until Challah's truck broke down last winter that both women realized their hard work was paying off.

"I thought I knew everything starting out, but I didn't realize I had to know how to be a mechanic, a social media guru (and) an electrician as well as a chef. I felt like throwing in the towel a few times because I didn't think people got what we were trying to do," Randazzo said. "When our truck split a head gasket and a radiator at once, it totally buried us. We were struggling to stay afloat, and I didn't know where I was going to get the money to repair the truck. Carly suggested we start a crowdfunding campaign, and we raised the money in 48 hours. All the people (who) ate at the truck donated and got it fixed. That showed me we were doing something people believed in."

Randazzo's customers weren't the only people who believed in her skills. Last fall, producers from The Food Network invited her to compete in Season 11 of "Cutthroat Kitchen," a competitive cooking show hosted by Alton Brown which returns on Aug. 2. Though Randazzo was confident in her cooking skills, she was nervous to shoot the show.

"I didn't want to make an ass out of myself. I have no shame, but I felt like I was representing Columbus and food truck chefs as a group. Food truck chefs don't always get the same respect as chefs who work in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. I wanted to prove we cook with integrity and respect the food as well," Randazzo said. "Ohio doesn't get a lot of attention for the food scene, and I wanted to do Ohio proud."

Now well into its second year, Challah has established a cult following, and Randazzo is currently in negotiations to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Harrison West. Until then, Randazzo plans to participate in more collaborations and pop-ups, while continuing to promote the local food truck scene as a whole.

"[The food truck scene] is growing, and we are all growing together. We're all trying to build this and make is sustainable so it doesn't just burn out like a fad," she said. "It's a community, we are all doing it for the passion."