If you’ve been in Oxford for a bit, you’ve probably heard of the local Southern rock band Southern Groove Redemption—they were voted Oxford’s Favorite Local Band in the Local Favorites this year. And if you’ve seen SGR live, you’ve seen Zechariah Tillotson rocking out on guitar and vocals. But that’s not all Zechariah has been up to these days.
Back in December 2020, the Oxford service industry veteran had an idea. Having worked for a college catering service in 2017, among various other kitchen jobs before and after that gig, Zechariah decided to establish his own business crafting quality food for University of Mississippi sororities and fraternities. In January 2021, Rebel Chefs was born.
Currently, Rebel Chefs provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Friday to Sigma Pi on the University of Mississippi campus. Tillotson points out that, as a small, local provider, Rebel Chefs is able to operate with much less overhead than national food service providers, so they are a more affordable option for sororities and fraternities. The goal? “A turnkey solution to take pressure and responsibility off the house director,” says Tillotson.
Zechariah has also executed offsite catering, including an AOII event in Coffeeville, but landing contracts with more Ole Miss Greek organizations is his primary goal. To spread the word and give Ole Miss students a taste of what they’re missing, Tillotson has partnered with Bar Muse for a pop-up event on February 27. Starting at 5 pm, the event is first come, first served, with a menu featuring braised beef birria eggrolls, masala-roasted pork shoulder, stewed white beans, and collard greens.
Originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Zechariah moved to Oxford in 2009 to attend the University of Mississippi, where he earned a degree in History Education in 2013. While working as a chef at the ADPi house at Ole Miss, he realized he “really enjoyed it and had a knack for it.” He decided then to pursue a career in cooking and has never looked back. “I feel like it’s pretty closely tied to being in music,” he explains, “the creative process…it’s pretty similar.”
When it comes to cooking for a house full of college students, Zechariah’s favorite part is seeing those students enjoy the meals he’s prepared. “I get a lot from it,” he says. “These kids just want to eat good food, you know?”
To satisfy students’ need for familiar food while also keeping things interesting, Zechariah often puts a new spin on familiar dishes. Instead of a baked potato, for example, he might introduce them to potatoes confit. Ultimately, he aims to have new menu items every week.
Still, Tillotson knows where to draw the line. “I tried not doing Taco Tuesday one time,” he laughs. “I thought they were gonna murder me.” Since then, chips and queso have been served every single Tuesday without fail.
He also appreciates feedback from the students who enjoy his meals. If a particular dish gets rave reviews from students, he’ll rotate it in regularly. “It’s kind of a balancing act,” Zechariah explains. “You want to do food that they know they like, comfort food, and put a little something new in it.”
Learn more at rebelchefsMS.com and follow Rebel Chefs at @rebel.chefs on Instagram and @rebelchefsMS on Facebook. For more information, email rebelchefsMS@gmail.com.