Mercer chef strives to improve students’ dining experiences

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Jarvis Napier wears a chef's uniform and hat.
Jarvis Napier. Photo courtesy Mercer Dining Services

Jarvis Napier’s interest in culinary arts started when he was a child in his grandmother’s kitchen. He’s now worked in the professional food service industry for 25 years, the past four with Mercer University Dining Services in Macon.

In January, he received ProChef Level 2 designation — the second of three levels in a prestigious training and professional development program for collegiate chefs — from the Culinary Institute of America.

“I love meeting new people and seeing them enjoy my interpretation of dishes that I serve,” he said. “I also love teaching people and helping them become the best they can be.

Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Napier noticed the look of satisfaction on people’s faces when they experienced a great meal. He wanted to replicate that feeling, and at age 11, a hospital stay confirmed his desire to be a chef.

“My appendix had burst,” he said. “The only thing I was really able to watch (at the hospital) was the Cartoon Network and the Food Network. It inspired and made me want to pursue culinary arts even more.”

Napier went on to earn a culinary arts degree from Johnson and Wales University-North Miami and began his career providing contract food services for local hospitals. He served in general manager and dining services director roles in that area before making the move to Mercer Dining, which provides food services for the university in partnership with Aramark. Napier, formerly the food services director, was recently promoted to director of operations.

“My role primarily is to ensure our day-to-day operations function the way they need to and to ensure we maintain guests’ overall satisfaction,” Napier said. 

Each day, the Macon campus serves close to 2,000 meals in its residential dining halls and 3,500 transactions in its retail restaurants, which include Chick-fil-A, Which Wich, Panda Express, Starbucks and Einstein Bros. Bagels. Napier visits each dining location daily to provide staff support and check on communication, procedures and processes, food shipments, and food quality and safety. While he doesn’t spend as much time in the kitchen these days, he still prepares and cooks food for campus catering when needed. 

Napier said he’s pleased at the growth he’s seen since joining the Mercer Dining team. 

“When I first got here, dining management felt like as a company we weren’t a true partner (on campus). We were just the people who served food on campus. I always aspired to be more than that. I wanted us to be more impactful,” he said. 

Since then, Mercer Dining Services has forged connections with Mercer’s access and accommodations office to better meet student dietary needs, opened lines of communication with students so they can voice their nutritional concerns, implemented a “True Balance” allergen-friendly station that caters to students with food allergies, and provided service excellence training for all employees, among other accomplishments.

[Related: Here’s what’s new from Mercer Dining in Macon this year]

On a personal level, Napier is proud to have achieved the ProChef 2 certification. Executive Chef Jimmy Brown recently attained the Pro Chef I certification.

“The certification program tests your knowledge in food, your ability to understand regional cuisine and the execution of it all,” Napier said. “It is something that is not for the weak of heart. It’s four, 12-hour days of nonstop cooking, seven written tests and four practical exams. It was extremely tough and extremely fun at the same time. It took a lot of preparation. I’m excited and honored that I was able to pass.”

As for long-term goals, Napier hopes to one day own two restaurants, named Pops and Granddad’s, in honor of “two great men” in his life.

Two chefs wear their uniforms and cook in the kitchen.
Chefs Jimmy Brown (left) and Jarvis Napier film an episode of “Cooking in the Cave” for Mercer. Photo by Matt Smith.

 

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Andrea Honaker is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She writes feature stories for The Den and creates and maintains content for primary University web pages. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.