From middle school up until his high school graduation, Martavious McGee used his love for music to learn the art of playing the violin – at least until one day during his junior year when his attention went elsewhere. Coming home, after a long day of school practice, he changed the channel to the Food Network, which would forever change the his dreams.
In 2012, McGee enrolled into his first semester at the University of Memphis eager to learn the ins and outs of the culinary world; not knowing his journey didn’t include a straight path to graduation.
Studying at the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management, McGee found himself struggling to keep a healthy balance between his work and school life.
“I took a little break to work in restaurants,” he said. “I started to slowly come back part-time, then full-time, and now I’m about to graduate.”
Although McGee’s skill set led him to multiple job opportunities, he didn’t find comfort attempting to fitting school into his intense work schedule, but instead found ways to invest himself into both.
While working in a career field can teach you through experience, being in school can teach students the fundamentals – or the ABC’s – of their industry.
“Being in the field teaches you more, but if you are in college don’t just drop out thinking you can do this on your own. A lot of classes will help teach you the structure of things and will benefit you in what you are doing. With ordering food and that part of the business, a lot of people who are chefs don’t know how to do it. They don’t understand finances and the cost of materials [which can be learned inside a classroom],” McGee said.
McGee said he understands the importance of his school and work life, and how they work hand-in- hand with one another. Sometimes students leave school behind to focus solely on their career, however the knowledge you can gain during your time in school can work alongside the experience earned by being in the field.
Being a student means you have the opportunity to learn from professionals, your professors. In Martavious’ case, he has been able to learn from people within his industry who understand the business aspects of the culinary world.
Dr. Carol Silkes, a professor in the Kemmons Wilsons School of Hospitality and Resort Management program at the University of Memphis, has been teaching McGee throughout his time in college.
“I’ve been his teacher for several years now, and that kid is amazing,” Silkes said.
McGee enrolled in multiple courses taught by Silkes, one being an events course.
In hopes of showing her students the process of competing within the food industry, Silkes took a group from the events class to compete in BurgerFest Memphis.
Students, including McGee, put their minds together to create a burger, utilizing Gibson's Donuts for the buns. The group went on to win their first competition at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
“That’s what instructors do, pretty much inspire and ignite the passion in students and let them take it from there. That’s how I see [McGee], throughout his culinary and his academic life, which are sort of merged at this point,” Silkes said.
While Silkes has gotten to know McGee from the perspective of a professor, she was also able to experience him as a businessperson. She said McGee catered an event for her without having his own form of transportation.
“It was for about 50 people,” she said. “He prepared the food, Ubered it to my house, and finished there and it was just fabulous. I got the chance to see his perseverance and commitment to get a job done and you need both of those to be successful in an industry, and I just know his future will be so bright.”
While McGee has the raw talent to prepare a good meal, his dedication to his craft is what separates him from others. His journey into entrepreneurship began while interning at the Peabody Hotel and cooking alongside several professional chefs.
After an invite to Staxtacular, he was able to show the process of preparing a dish to auction off. Staxtacular is a fundraiser event that helps raise money for students to gain scholarships to cover their tuition costs at Stax Music Academy.
Preparing that dish was the jumpstart of his career as a private chef.
“A guy came up to me, said he heard I was a private chef, and wanted to do a dinner. I go to his house the very next day and we planned a five-course meal with cocktails and wine. After that it pretty much took off,” McGee said. “Not too long after that COVID hit.”
Many businesses declined during the pandemic, however, it did the opposite for McGee.
While restaurants were closed, the desire to have a good meal never stopped. He was able to cater to his clients and prepare exclusive dinners for their small gatherings.
As he looks ahead, McGee plans to stay in Memphis and open his own Michelin star restaurant, giving Memphians something to look forward to in the near future.
Martavious McGee's inspiration came after stumbling upon the Food Network as a kid.