Carson Gulley (1897-1962) gained such legendary status as a chef on the UW-Madison campus that both a building and a pie were named for him.
Carson Gulley Commons, located at 1515 Tripp Circle, was named for the man who had served as head chef there from 1927 until 1954. Carson Gulley was the first person of color for whom a UW-Madison campus building was named. It was also the first time in the long practice of naming campus buildings that the name of a civil service employee rather than a faculty member or administrator had been so honored.
During Carson Gulley’s 27-year tenure as head chef of the Housing Division’s Food Service, he introduced what would become a famous campus fudge-bottom pie; a chocolate and custard dessert wrapped in nostalgia for the thousands of students and faculty who fondly remember consuming it in campus dining halls over the years. The pie became his signature dish. The Food Service still lists “Carson Gulley’s Fudge-Bottom Pie” among its offerings.
Carson Gulley made an impact well beyond the crimped edges of pie crust and the boundaries of the UW-Madison campus. In 1936 at the invitation of the famed George Washington Carver, Carson Gulley took a leave from the UW-Madison to set up a very successful commercial dietetics training course at Tuskegee Institute.
His reputation as culinary master and authority on herbs and spices led to his development of the University’s program to train U. S. Navy cooks and bakers for service during World War II. Sailors on ships all over the world dined well because their cooks had received instruction from Carson Gulley. After the war, he developed a two-year cooking course for the University which ran until 1951. Many of the program’s graduates attended the program on the GI Bill.
After retiring from the university in 1954 Carson Gulley remained very involved in the world of food. He and his wife Beatrice ran a catering business and were pioneering TV and radio chefs. They hosted a weekly “What’s Cookin” show in the 1950s and early 1960s on Madison’s WMTV television. This was well before Julia Child burst onto the scene with her PBS cooking show “The French Chef” in 1963. They also hosted the “Cooking School of the Air” on WIBA radio. He taught demonstration classes in food preparation in schools and clubs throughout the state, and was in demand as a guest speaker.
In 1949 Carson Gulley published some of his recipes, including fudge-bottom pie, in a book called Seasoning Secrets: Herbs and Spices. The book was later revised and republished under the name Seasoning Secrets and Favorite Recipes of Carson Gulley. While working for the University, several Extension bulletins were published, putting in print the recipes and cooking instructions he had presented on the WHA-WLBL Homemakers’ Program. Carson Gulley’s publications are presented here in the Carson Gulley Cookbooks digital collection.
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