Making Magic: In the Kitchen With Chef G. Garvin

In a competitive marketplace, SodexoMagic stands out for its extraordinary leadership, exemplary service and commitment to diversity. But it also has a secret weapon on the food front: Chief Culinary Advisor Chef G. Garvin, a trailblazing celebrity chef.

We caught up with Chef Garvin recently to explore how his personal journey has shaped his culinary philosophy and leadership of SodexoMagic’s offerings.

Interviewer: How did you connect with SodexoMagic?

Chef Garvin: I was originally going to help Mr. J. (SodexoMagic majority owner Mr. Earvin “Magic” Johnson) craft menu designs for cafes. That didn’t work out, but I later got a call from the SodexoMagic team to create recipe designs and make celebrity chef appearances. What was really attractive to me was the ability to create a better experience for kids who are Black and brown, and I was able to do that though designing school meals. Right away, we started building recipes that were specific to SodexoMagic.

Interviewer: What drew you in?

Chef Garvin: Like most people, I’ve admired Mr. J. and his team as businesspeople for 25 years. I always wanted to be part of that team. They have a passion for business and community. As our saying goes, We ARE the communities we serve. It often gets forgotten. When you grew up the way I did, someone’s mama worked in the school cafeteria. Someone’s dad was the janitor. You go to church with people from school. So, you understand you’re part of a larger community.

Interviewer: How do you define Nourishment, a SodexoMagic pillar?

Chef Garvin: My personal philosophy is to understand how best to feed people, even if it’s 1,800 students with different palates. How do we reach each person in a way that’s authentic? How do you provide nourishment so they can perform at a high level? For me, that’s understanding the organization’s region and people — Asian, African American, Latino, etc. It’s important to understand vegan and vegetarian needs, and cultural attitudes toward pork and seafood. That’s all a part of how we nourish different communities.

Interviewer: How has your own upbringing and culture shaped you as a chef?

Chef Garvin: I grew up in Atlanta and my mother worked as a kitchen supervisor. She was the Southern Black woman who could cook well, but she worked in a very white, male-dominated food world. My four sisters and I started cooking at a very young age, because my mother was a single mom and was working. Food was a source of comfort. I started working at restaurants — washing dishes, breaking down boxes and doing prep work. The kitchen became a safe space for me. Food didn’t change my life; it saved my life.

You’re always rooted in your beginnings, but I needed more than Southern cooking to succeed. I never went to culinary school; I had to work, so it wasn’t my path. I had to work harder to prove more. Being a Black chef, there’s always something to prove. I worked my way up, cooking at premier restaurants, like the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Springs and Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. I’ve owned restaurants and I was the first Black chef to have a prime-time TV show.

I feel like I own a piece of culinary history and helped paved the way for other African American chefs. But I never forgot the power of a good meal as a child. I know what it’s like not to have a good meal in a cafeteria and what it’s like to have a good meal in a cafeteria. 

Interviewer: Tell us about your passion for training young chefs and community work.

Chef Garvin: Every summer, I run the G. Garvin Culinary Boot Camp in Atlanta with kids from the public schools. They apply by writing an essay. I take up to 26 kids and teach them as much as I can. They learn about the different roles, like being a general manager, butcher, baker, recipe developer and tester. I feel I have a responsibility to both the kids who look like me and the kids who don’t look like me. I also do employee engagement for SodexoMagic and other community work with organizations that help domestic violence victims and homeless people.

Interviewer: What makes SodexoMagic special in the marketplace?

Chef Garvin: When SodexoMagic walks into the room, we don’t walk in as salespeople, we walk in as partners. We understand our obligation to our customers. People have a right to the highest level of customer service, hospitality and food.

What sets us apart is that we go into the community. We find out who the favorite local chefs and bakers are and identify the favorite foods at mom-and-pops and neighborhood bodegas. And we bring that back to the campus or office space. It only makes sense, if you’re serving a community with large Ethiopian or Eritrean populations to bring those foods in. 

At SodexoMagic, we understand our customers and employees. We take pride in designing, developing and delivering menus that speak to client needs. We make sure we’re authentic to the customer base, the environment and the community. And by working with local and diverse vendors, we keep dollars and employment in the community.

Mr. J. is a businessman with a lot of different ventures, but he wants kids who look like us to have everything that kids who don’t look like us have. I feel lucky and humble every time I’m in the room with Mr. J. He’s a man with the highest integrity. He’s not a pushover; he’s demanding. He expects the best. He talks about passion because he’s passionate.”


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