August 15, 2023

Hattiesburg Native Soars in Role as Executive Chef at USM

Darkhorse Press

Chef Josh Cathey

By Van Arnold, The University of Southern Mississippi

Start with a heaping helping of passion; add a generous dose of discipline; sprinkle in copious amounts of ingenuity, instinct, and ambition. Voilà! What you have is a recipe for success that has catapulted Joshua Cathey from home cook to Executive Chef at The University of Southern Mississippi.

While most of his duties these days are administrative in nature, don’t think for a minute that Cathey can’t whip up a delectable dish on the spot.

“Josh is so talented. If you give him a basket full of random food items, he will make a five-star meal out of the items. Guaranteed. I would bet my check on it,” said Marcus White, who works closely with Cathey as Director of Operations for Aramark Collegiate Hospitality.

Cathey’s culinary skills have earned him numerous accolades since he joined the Aramark Collegiate Hospitality team in 2016. In February of this year Cathey captured first place in the Aramark Culinary Excellence Competition at Auburn University where he competed against chefs from every corner of the south region. That victory helped him advance to the National ACE competition held last month at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Cathey took home the bronze medal from that contest.

Soft-spoken, humble, and a consummate team player, Cathey prefers not to dwell on his personal achievements. His colleagues, however, are not shy about acknowledging the acclaimed chef’s expertise inside and outside the kitchen.

“Josh leads positively through servitude leadership,” said District Manager Charles Dorsa, who serves as Cathey’s supervisor. “He serves his team to ensure they can provide the best food and hospitality possible. He is always self-educating himself to be better at his craft and sharing that knowledge with everyone. His charismatic personality makes him extremely approachable and that too has contributed to his success, along with a selfless attitude.”

Cathey’s impressive path to executive chef began just a few miles from the USM campus in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. His Kensington Woods neighborhood teemed with the sounds of children laughing and playing. He counts among his favorite childhood memories the summers spent outside with his friends.

“I knew all the kids in my neighborhood,” said Cathey. “We played every sport outside and rode bikes all day long. Those were some of the best summers.”

The itch to cook came from his grandmother’s kitchen where he watched attentively while she prepared a variety of southern delicacies.

“I started cooking, or better yet attempting to cook, at a very young age,” said Cathey. “Spending time with my grandmother in the kitchen sparked my interest. I learned a lot from her just by watching and asking questions until I was brave enough to attempt a few dishes of my own.”

After graduating from Hattiesburg High School in 2007, Cathey enrolled at USM where he earned a BSBA degree in tourism management (2011). While in school, Cathey began his professional career in catering at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center in 2010.

A few years after graduation, which included gaining more kitchen experience, Cathey applied to Aramark as a sous chef – someone who works directly under the chef de cuisine or head chef.

“After my interview, the Executive Chef said they were hiring a Catering Chef and thought I would be a good fit,” said Cathey. “After my interview and mystery basket, I was offered the job.”

Fast-forward five years and the Executive Chef position with Eagle Dining at USM becomes vacant. “I had to do three interviews and demonstrate my knowledge of how to lead a large culinary team,” Cathey explained. “I have definitely enjoyed it and was glad that I took that leap of faith.”

Dorsa is more than delighted that Cathey took that gigantic step – one that has helped Eagle Dining soar to exemplary heights.

“Josh has contributed to the success of Eagle Dining over the last three years in ways I didn’t expect,” said Dorsa. “He goes above and beyond just food, helping provide the best possible experience for our students. We would not be where we are today if it weren’t for Josh being the leader and chef he is.”

Cathey assisted with creating Aramark’s Culinary YOUniversity©, has been a preceptor for the nutrition program on the graduate level, and held cooking demos for students and groups in the community. He was selected to be one of this year’s Aramark 40 Under 40 awardees. He also serves on the culinary board for Hattiesburg High School, focusing on giving back to the next generation of culinarians.

His primary duties as Executive Chef at USM include monitoring food financial for all locations, inspections, food safety, culinary training and mentoring, menu development and helping with events in the Fresh Food Company on campus.

“Josh is a wonderful Executive Chef, but we are developing him to be more than just that,” said White. “Josh helps us write budgets when it comes to food costs and labor. Josh is great at what he does in the kitchen, but he is also great with operations.”

And goodness, is he detail-oriented. White enjoys relating a memory that perfectly encapsulates Cathey’s drive for perfection.

“We were in Houston for one of his practice sessions for the ACE competition, and I was meeting him for dinner that night,” said White. “Josh had been in the kitchen since 5 a.m. working on his craft and didn’t get finished until 6 p.m. We were discussing his day and everything he had done that day and while we were eating he had a pocket-size notebook and he started writing things down. We would talk a little more and he would write some more. I finally asked him, ‘what are you writing’ and he stated that he was thinking about his day and what he could have done better and what he would have done differently. He was writing it down to study for the next time.”

Cathey resides in the Hattiesburg area with his wife, Jessica, and their 7-year-old daughter, Journey. He jokes that the cooking duties are actually evenly split between himself and Jessica. But just like any accomplished chef, Cathey has a signature dish – a scrumptious staple found in most Southern kitchens.

“My signature dish and my favorite dish to prepare is chicken and andouille gumbo. It’s a very versatile dish. Sometimes, I’ll add duck, seafood, and different types of sausages. It just depends on who I’m making it for,” said Cathey.

When asked what he would consider the most common mistake that most home cooks make, Cathey noted: “Not resting meats after cooking. Resting it makes for a juicier cut of meat.”

Canvas the USM landscape and you will be hard-pressed to find many who bleed black and gold more enthusiastically than Cathey. He takes immense pride in his alma mater and his hometown.

“I am so proud of where I come from and the things that I have been able to accomplish over the years,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I tell people about Hattiesburg and Southern Miss. I try to give back by sharing my experiences.”

Dorsa summed up his colleague and friend by stating, “Josh is a nurturer, a caring, dedicated individual. Both personally and professionally. He is a dedicated father, husband and professional. He does not accept defeat or failure in anything he does.”

Now, that sounds like a recipe for success.

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