Vikings Women

Five Stars for Minnesota Vikings Chef Geji McKinney-Banks

By Norma Chappell of Chappell Media

She’s part of the NFL but doesn’t tackle anyone, catch footballs or make touchdowns. However, she does play hardball and is very competitive. Her schedule is as intense as any football team’s schedule. In bed before 9 p.m. and up before dawn Monday through Saturday, Executive Chef Geji McKinney-Banks [pronounced Gee Gee] is director of food service operations for the Minnesota Vikings Football Club.

She manages chefs and other kitchen staff to ensure that food is prepared and ready for consumption when the players, coaches, and front office staff arrive. Her grueling schedule encompasses the entire NFL season, plus working 17-hour days during camps and draft.

Six days a week, Geji puts on non-slip work shoes, an apron, and a chef hat ready to inspect food that her chefs prepared. It is all about quality control, which is the key success factor to the Vikings organization.

“What’s this? It’s burnt, would you eat that?” she asks one of the chefs as she examines the breakfast entrees. “Take it out of here,” she commands. With confidence she tastes, stirs, and directs: “The grits are too runny, tighten them up; or I don’t taste basil in the gravy.”

“Yes, Chef,” her colleagues say with respect and without contention.

However, it isn’t always that way.  Chef Ben Martancik who’s worked at Winter Park four seasons says, “Her standards are very high for food quality and cleanness. It reflects on me and the other employees. We bashed heads at first, [because] we both are stubborn. However, it took awhile to work through that. You butt heads sometime. When everybody is stressed, you might be snippy with people.” Snippy is putting it mildly. These people are radical!  In the wide world of sports, the nature of the beast is to be competitive. Working in the NFL, whether you’re a starter, coach, trainer or behind the scenes as it is with culinary, you have to be tough mentally and physically.

Praises of immaculate cuisine and food safety practices are received from chefs and business people around the world. When Food Network celebrity Chef Guy Fieri toured the Vikings facility, he looked around the kitchen and said loudly, “Who is in charge here! This is the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen!” During a food service inspection by the Minnesota Health Department, one of the inspectors was heard saying this is one kitchen I would eat in.

Geji is a perfectionist, which fits perfectly with the Vikings way of doing things – spare no expense on service, freshness, quality, and presentation.  “I work to ensure that the last person in line, at the end of the day, gets the same freshness of the food as the first person who came in earlier that day,” informed Geji. “Every day we work hard to enhance our food safety standards to help us increase quality and value to those we serve.”

Her likeness, food presentation techniques, and bill of fare were used for the 3-A-Day campaign by the Midwest Dairy Association. She was  a celebrity judge at the Taste of the NFL and the Taste of the Vikings for three consecutive years. She has also been a guest chef on KARE 11, Fox 9 and KSTP 5.   Geji has participated in the Vikings community program, where she and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater visited the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. They talked to the students about pursuing their dreams and the importance of staying in  school. She also visited Bancroft elementary school to talk about nutrition as well.

Currently, Geji is part of the Vikings Fuel Up To Play:60 with Viktor school assembly film.

In 2013, when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the ESPY Comeback of the Year award, in his acceptance speech, he credited his Chef Geji with helping him regain twenty pounds after losing that much from an ACL injury. She was Peterson's personal chef for eight years. Geji also received an honorable mention in Sports Illustrated magazine that profiled Peterson.  And she was also featured in an NFL presentation which gave an inside look at the nutritional side of Vikings mini-camp.

On September 29, 2013, the Minnesota Vikings hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, England at the  Wembley Stadium. Geji was commissioned to go to London twice that year to meet with directors and chefs at the luxurious Grosvenor House , a J W Marriott Hotel and The Grove  Hotel in the United Kingdom to learn their layout, customs, and standards before the team arrived. The main focus was to maintain Vikings’ quality assurance standards so that stark differences would not impact the team in a negative way.

“The Vikings front office felt it was imperative not to steer far away from the foods that we serve at Winter Park. I was excited at the opportunity to lead the food program to London. It was a challenge, a learning experience, and definitely a blessing all rolled into one,” Geji said.

The Grove Hotel presented Geji with the distinguished British Women's Culinary trophy for her service of  excellence in helping them achieve their goals during the Vikings' stay. She received the ARAMARK Encore Encore Recognition award in Philadelphia for her excellent work ethics and passion that was put into the Vikings food service program in London. She also received a Lifetime Achievement award for her many credible professional accomplishments from the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Her list of personal chef clients include boxer/ex-NFL player Ray Edwards, NBA Dallas Mavericks guard J.J Barea, NFL players Tom Johnson, Greg Jennings, Kevin Williams, Bobby Wade, Tony Richardson, Tarvaris Jackson, Dwight Smith, Jayme Mitchell, Bethel Johnson, and many others.

She has an associate degree in Culinary Arts and a bachelor of science degree in culinary management from the Art Institutes, Minnesota. She is the only female African-American team chef in the NFL and has been with the Vikings 22 years, which her longevity proves she is a real team player.