Chef Casey Gates and LU culinary students serve up holiday spirit

For 21 years, Lamar University culinary instructor, Chef Casey Gates, has volunteered his holiday time to Garth House, Mickey Mehaffy Children’s Advocacy Program, helping with the annual Garth House Gala. Gates has carried on the time-honored tradition of involving Lamar’s culinary program with the non-profit in several roles – student, business owner, and now instructor. LU Culinary Students at Garth House

This year, students in Gates’s basic foods class and chef’s essentials class joined him in catering the gala, which aims to raise money for child advocacy. It’s a tradition he first remembers participating in under the mentorship of former Lamar instructor, Chef Charles Duit, who retired last spring. 

“When I was a student, I helped create recipes. Chef Duit would finalize the menu, and the students would cook,” Gates said. 

Dating back to 1999, Lamar culinary students have volunteered their time to Pour Les Enfants, the charity’s largest fundraiser. 

“Lamar culinary students are an asset to this event. Manpower is a must to serve our 400+ guests in a timely fashion. So much goes on behind the scenes,” Marion Tanner, Garth House executive director,  said. “The students are so gracious to be here, and it really says something to our guests that it is young people helping young children.” 

When Gates took over the culinary program in March, one of his goals was to provide more hands-on learning experiences for students. From prep work to service and breakdown, students got a taste of authenticity while indulging in Lamar’s charitable culture. 

"They get to see real-world catering,” Gates said. “It’s a lot of work gearing up, but it gives them an idea of how to set up a timeline and how to make sure food stays fresh. It gives them a sense of just how much work it is.” 

For sophomore culinary arts student, Hannah Mitchell, this was her second year volunteering at the annual gala. 

“I like meeting people at the event. It is an opportunity for me to network and potentially get a job in the future,” Mitchell said. 

She said getting out of the classroom helped her to work on her hospitality skills, and she really enjoyed introducing herself to people.  

"If you open up or manage a restaurant, you’re out in the community and you want their support. So, I tell students to give back to those who help support them,” Gates said. 

Although his role has changed over the years, Gates has always approached the event with a passion to contribute to his community. 

"Our entire department is basically a service department. We [faculty] try to instill in them [students] to pick something that they care about and to give back to it,” Gates said.