The sizzling sounds of the stove, the fragrant smells of soul food and the sight of seeing his mother cook, and the joy on the faces of family and friends inspired and motivated Marcus Rhodes’ culinary career. Those moments are rooted in his culinary creations at answer restaurant in Sylvan Park. Rhodes is the chef de cuisine at answer. and one of its co-founding members.
Rhodes works directly with the owners in his role as chef de cuisine. He cooks all of the orders and menu changes that are seasonal. He also hires personnel in the kitchen. “They allow me to just let me be creative and let me just be me as a chef,” he said.
When it comes to changing up the menu, Rhodes let the clientele guide his decision. “We always joke and say, ‘This is a woman’s restaurant,’ not because of the owner, but because any given day during happy hour at the bar would be full of women or parties that are booked are by women,” he explained. He keeps a women-friendly menu in mind that does not center around and not big heavy steaks or chops that typically men would order.
He’s inspired by his trips to the farmers market, the seasons’ popular ingredients and the regulars that come into the restaurant. However, he is known for his elevated take on soul food. Sunday suppers at answer. is one of his ideas that was inspired by Sunday dinner in Memphis. The take-out concept is credited to keeping answer. afloat during the pandemic with the meals packaged cold with reheating instructions. “We went from doing it once a week to doing it five days a week, and if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have been able to have the capital to stay in this business,” he explained.
From Memphis to Nashville
He has worked at answer. for the last four years, but it has been 24 years and counting culinary journey for Rhodes. He took his love for the art and worked his way from sports bars to elevating dining through ambition.
Moving to Nashville was one of the best decisions Rhodes says he made for himself. In 1997, the Memphis native had just completed his Job Corps program in culinary arts when he traveled to Nashville. “What [Job Corps] did for me was teach me that cooking wasn’t just getting on the stove and putting some ingredients together. I had to learn like there’s a lot of math involved in this, he said. He bears witness to the evolution of Nashville’s food scene. From chain restaurants mom and pop shops to an explosion of one owner restaurants, he experienced it all with his culinary career.
Leveling all the way up
His first job as a new Nashville resident would be at the Waffle House on Bell Road and Old Hickory. Shortly after, he would split his time working at Waffle House and a sports bar. “With each small job I got, I was just like, I want to do more than this,” he shared. Not wanting to be stuck making chicken wings and burgers, Rhodes was on the hunt for an elevated cooking experience until he got the opportunity to work at Ruth Chris and Capitol Grille. However, the job that changed his culinary experience was becoming a cook at Fisk University. Two weeks into the job, he was promoted from lead cook to executive chef. “[Fisk] definitely turned me into a leader. It taught me how to manage people because I had 40 people on my staff,” he shared. In this role, he managed the cafeteria and the other cafes and dining facilities on campus.
The management experience would eventually lead him to opportunities to help open up restaurants like Josephine’s on 12th. After taking some time off to figure out what was next for him, he would come across a Craigslist post for his role at answer. “I was the second person they hired. We still had two months before we opened, and so I just built a relationship with them, over the phone and popping in here and checking out how the place was coming along over those two months of waiting,” he said.
Paying it forward
With his years of culinary experience under his belt, he mentors the next generation of Black chefs in Nashville. Rhodes believes that the lack of diversity in the industry makes some places not take Black culinary talent seriously. “It was three white guys who told me, being Black in this industry was going to be different, but they thought I had what it took,” he shared. Rhodes recalls those moments where they took him under their wings and finds mentorship to be beneficial. The first Black chef he got to work with was Charlotte Miller, the first black woman chef to work at the Hermitage Hotel. “It was good to have somebody that looked like each other as support through those times. She’s still very influential in my career now,” he shared.
Despite the adversity that he faced and what he believes Black chefs will face in their careers is inevitable, there is one thing that Rhodes knows in his heart to be true. “I think some people are born doing what they’re supposed to do, and I think culinary was one of those things for me. Definitely,” he said.
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