Monday, 14/08/2023 – 2:06 p.m | By: Van Arnold
Start with a pile of passion fruit; add a generous dose of discipline; sprinkle in a generous amount of ingenuity, instinct and ambition. Here! What you have is a recipe for success that catapulted Joshua Cathy from home cook to executive chef at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM).
Although most of his duties these days are administrative in nature, don’t think for a minute that Cathy can’t whip up a delicious meal 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 that,” said Marcus White, who works closely with Kathy as director of operations for Aramark Collegiate Hospitality.
Cathey’s culinary skills have earned him numerous accolades since joining the Aramark Collegiate Hospitality team in 2016. In February of this year, Cathey won first place in the Aramark Culinary Excellence Competition at Auburn University, where he competed against chefs from every corner of the South region. This win helped him advance to the ACE National Competition, held last month at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Cathy took home the bronze medal in that competition.
Soft-spoken, modest and a consummate team player, Kathy prefers not to dwell on her personal achievements. However, his colleagues are not shy about acknowledging the acclaimed chef’s skills in and out of the kitchen.
“Josh leads positively through servant 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 educating himself to be better at his craft and shares this knowledge with everyone. His charismatic personality makes him extremely approachable and this has also contributed to his success, along with his selfless attitude.”
Cathey’s impressive journey to becoming a chef began just a few miles from the USM campus in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. His Kensington Woods neighborhood is abuzz with the sounds of children laughing and playing. Among her favorite childhood memories are summers spent outside with her friends.
“I knew all the kids in my neighborhood,” Kathy said. “We played all kinds of sports outside and rode bikes all day. Those were some of the best summers.”
The itch to cook came from his grandmother’s kitchen, where he watched intently as she prepared various Southern delicacies.
“I started cooking, or rather trying to cook, at a very young age,” Kathy said. “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 try a few dishes of my own.”
After graduating from Hattiesburg High School in 2007, Cathey enrolled at USM where he earned a BSBA in Tourism Management (2011). While in school, Cathey began her professional career in catering at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center in 2010.
A few years after graduation, which included gaining more kitchen experience, Kathy applied to Aramark as a sous chef—someone who works directly under the head chef or executive chef.
“After my interview, the executive chef said they were hiring a catering chef and thought I would be a good fit,” Kathy said. “After my interview and a mystery basket, I was offered the job.”
Fast forward five years and the position of Executive Chef at Eagle Dining at USM becomes vacant. “I had to do three interviews and demonstrate my knowledge of how to lead a large culinary team,” Kathy explained. “I definitely enjoyed it and I’m glad I took that leap of faith.”
Dorsa is more than delighted that Kathy took this giant step – one that has helped Eagle Dining rise to extraordinary heights.
“Josh has contributed to the success of Eagle Dining over the past three years in ways I did not expect,” Dorsa said. “It goes beyond just food, helping to provide the best possible experience for our students. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for Josh being the leader and chef that he is.”
Cathey helped establish Aramark’s Culinary YOUniversity©, mentored the senior level dining program and conducted cooking demonstrations for students and community groups. He was selected to be one of this year’s Aramark 40 Under 40 honorees. He also serves on Hattiesburg High School’s Culinary Council, focusing on giving back to the next generation of foodies.
His primary duties as Executive Chef at USM include food financial oversight for all locations, inspections, food safety, culinary training and mentoring, menu development, and assistance with Fresh Food Company events on campus.
“Josh is a wonderful executive chef, but we’re developing him to be more than that,” White said. “Josh helps us write budgets when it comes to food and labor costs. Josh is great at what he does in the kitchen, but he’s also great with operations.”
And for goodness sake, he’s detail-oriented. White likes to recount a memory that perfectly encapsulates Cathy’s drive for perfection.
“We were in Houston for one of his training sessions for the ACE competition and I was going to meet him for dinner tonight,” White said. “Josh was in the kitchen from 5am working on his craft and wasn’t done until 6pm. We were discussing his day and everything he had done that day and while we were eating he had a pocket size notebook and started writing things down. We’ll talk a little more and he’ll write more. Finally I asked him “what do you write” and he said 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 it for next time.
Cathy lives in the Hattiesburg area with his wife, Jessica, and their 7-year-old daughter, Journey. He jokes that the cooking duties are actually split evenly between him and Jessica. But just like any seasoned chef, Cathey has a signature dish—a great staple found in most Southern kitchens.
“My signature dish and my favorite dish to make is chicken and andouille bambo. This is a very versatile dish. Sometimes I’ll add duck, seafood, and different kinds of sausages. It just depends who I’m doing it for,” Kathy said.
When asked what he thinks is the most common mistake most home cooks make, Cathy noted, “Not letting the meat rest after cooking. Leaving it in makes for a juicier piece of meat.”
Survey the USM landscape and you’d be hard-pressed to find many who bleat black and gold more enthusiastically than Cathey. He is extremely proud of his alma mater and his hometown.
“I’m so proud of where I come from and the things I’ve been able to accomplish over the years,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I tell people about Hattiesburg and Southern Miss. I’m trying to give back by sharing my experience.”
Dorsa summed up his colleague and friend by stating, “Josh is a nurturing, caring, dedicated person. 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.