What’s cooking in the CoEHD: Chef Casey Gates joins the Cardinal family

Something’s cooking in the College of Education and Human Development. The college recently welcomed its newest top chef to the culinary program and his recipe for success may have the Lamar University campus, and Southeast Texas community, hungry for more. 

Chef Casey Gates ’05 is a Beaumont native, a graduate of the Lamar University culinary arts program and a longtime lover of cooking food for the soul. His passion for cooking was ignited just after graduating high school. chef-casey-gates-culinary-lab

“I’ve always loved seeing the joy on people’s faces when you cook a nice hearty meal for them. I took a little time off and I’ve always worked in restaurants, fine dining and even catering. Finally, one day, I decided that I would go back to school for that little piece of paper that certifies that I know what I’m doing,” the chef said jokingly.

Gates, who joined Lamar University as an adjunct professor in the culinary arts program in fall of 2022, took the reins of the program just after longtime Lamar University Chef Charles Duit retired after more than 40 years of service at the institution.

When asked if he had ever foreseen himself returning to the nest to take his mentor’s place, the chef had just one simple answer: Absolutely not.

“I’ve been in the restaurant industry for a while and this just felt right –– it felt like the next step in my career,” he said. “It’s just me coming back and adding on to what Chef Duit has built for the last 40 years.”
Covering everything from French cuisine and inventory to measuring ingredients and even how to boil an egg, Gates said he plans to add more baking courses and fabrication, or butchery, for the students to get a more hands-on learning experience.

“My plan is to get our students in the culinary lab and get them cooking,” he said. “We do a lot of classical recipes, but we also have a recipe section in the Mary and John Gray Library filled with recipes dating back to the 1500s. It’s Lamar University’s centennial year so I would love to pull some of those old recipes into the culinary lab.”

Throughout his career, he has worked everywhere from Buckner Caulder Woods and CHRISTUS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to local BISD schools and even Bando’s Catering, a business owned by his predecessor’s wife.

The LU chef and his wife also are co-owners of MacKenzie’s Pub, a local business that has stood tall in the Beaumont community for more than 25 years.

“I try to relate a lot of my classes to my experience out in the real world,” he said. “It’s not just about cooking –– I’m showing our students how to order items, keep track of inventory, how much items cost and where they can make a profit. I’m showing them the business side because I want them to know that the culinary side doesn’t just involve restaurants.”

In Summer of 2020, the culinary lab was awarded a $28,000 grant from the Mamie McFaddin Ward Heritage Foundation to purchase and install three new pieces of commercial kitchen equipment. Funds from the grant also were used to increase safety on the production line: stainless steel flashing was installed; and the fire suppression system was repositioned.

Dr. Jill Killough, department chair for the Department of Nutrition, Hospitality and Human Services, worked with the retired Chef Duit for more than 23 years. The professor said that while she was sad to see her longtime coworker move on, she’s excited to have Chef Gates take on the role and take the program beyond the classroom and into the Southeast Texas community.

“We're looking into ways to build up basic cooking skills for our community possibly with a cooking 101 course. We you know there's always people that love to cook and foodies out there,” Killough said. “A lot of times, those foodies end up as majors in the program. We just want to get the community into the building to see what we have to offer.”

While Chef Gates may be thinking bon appétit, Killough said she has just three words on her mind when it comes to the program: recruit, recruit, recruit.

“One thing I’m super excited for Chef Gates to do is get into our local high schools. Most high schools have culinary arts programs and he’s a prime example of someone who’s been in the field, owns his own business, has the knowledge and skills, and he can talk to those students about what a four-year degree can do for them,” she said.

While returning to the culinary program nearly 20 years later was never in his plans, Gates said he’s proud to take on the program that groomed him into the chef that he is today.

“Seeing students come in not knowing how to hold a knife and then at the end of the semester being able to follow the recipe’s and produce it is amazing,” he said. “I don’t think that I ever truly left here –– I’ve always been here and I’m certainly proud to be able to teach the next generation of culinary Cardinals.”