Chef’s Delight

Chef’s Delight

a good bet for a good time


The event …

You can bet your money on the 24th annual Chef’s Delight and come away knowing you’ll be a winner Tuesday, Oct. 9. Beginning at 6 p.m., The Holiday Inn Beaumont Plaza will be the scene of a wonderful evening of fun, food and fellowship honoring President Jimmy and First Lady Susan Simmons of Lamar University and providing funding for scholarships for culinary students of the future.

The menu …

Members of the Golden Triangle Chefs Association will serve dinner to more than 700 people, featuring New Orleans-style grilled oysters, duck confit salad, center-cut grilled steak with Bourbon Street demi, and vanilla bean crème brulee bread pudding with homemade limoncello sauce. Chef Casey Gates, president of the local chefs association and a Lamar Hospitality Management program alumnus, said, “This event is an opportunity to exhibit the wealth of culinary talents available in the Golden Triangle.” As an added bonus, the chefs will be assisted by students from Lamar University’s Hospitality Management and Culinary Programs.

The organizers …

Businessman Frank Messina, known by many as Lamar’s No. 1 fan, and Dr. Molly J. Dahm, director of the four-year Hospitality Management Program and the Culinary Certificate Program, as event co-chairs, are especially excited about this year’s Chef’s Delight. “We are thrilled,” said Messina, “because we are presenting President Jimmy Simmons with a special gift for the university, honoring him and his lovely wife Susan, and celebrating 24 years of this event, which means so much to so many.” Messina could not say enough good things about his co-chair, Dahm, with whom he has been working since she came to Lamar University in 1996 after an extensive career in both international and domestic hotel and restaurant management.

Messina reflected on the humble beginnings of the Sabine Area Restaurant Association, (SARA), co-sponsor of the event, when he and friends David and Vera Rodriguez had a conversation about getting the restaurant owners together for a local event to raise funding for the university. Rodriguez owned David’s Upstairs at the time, and Messina said it was one of the finest places to eat in Beaumont. “We thought we might fill a few tables and raise some money for Lamar. The folks at Holiday Inn Plaza agreed to let us use their property, and David and I set out to sell tickets. The event was well received, and here we are 24 years later still going strong. When Molly came on board, she helped to add some interesting things like the silent auction, wider varieties of food, some really great ideas, and we have grown even more. People look forward to attending each year, participating, and to the good we do by helping kids with scholarships to help better their lives.”

Messina, a cheerleader for Southeast Texas, said, “I do not believe you can travel to any city our size and find the quality of restaurants we have here in Beaumont.”

Dahm agrees. “We have modeled our hospitality and culinary programs at Lamar on the philosophy of giving of ourselves and of our organizations in order that others may benefit in the best way possible,” she said. “It has been our experience that the most successful businesses and individuals in the industry are those who constantly and exhaustively give back to the community, who take an active role in building and shaping their own world.”

Messina, who now owns five busy stores, said one of the biggest assets of the culinary program at Lamar is in educating kids who will hopefully be interested in remaining in the area and keeping our restaurants among the best in the area.

Dahm added, “Frank and I see the endowment (to Lamar) as a signal to continue on our current path but also as a challenge to constantly try to improve the way in which we teach and shape our students. We want your investment to grow and proliferate, producing new and talented professionals with the greatest integrity and highest standards for our industry and community.”

The honorees …

Lamar President Jimmy Simmons has announced his retirement effective Jan. 31, 2013, to devote more time to his family.

The Simmons have shared the spotlight for more than four decades, orchestrating a bright future for the university while contributing time and considerable talents to the entire Southeast Texas community and achieving professional success in the arenas of art, education and business. Lamar’s 10th president, Jimmy led LU into a new era of dynamic growth as band director, musician, educator and respected friend. Susan has been a leader in community organizations while also achieving excellence as a Realtor, teacher and business owner. The couple married on June 2, 1968, beginning a life focused on family and a deep affection for their town, the region and the university.

Susan has played several important roles. She has been a Realtor with American Real Estate more than 25 years, with honors that include Realtor of the Year and Multi-Million-Dollar Producer. She owned and operated Caterpillar Children’s Shop and assisted in the family construction company, applying her many artistic talents to coordinate floor plans and designs.

She has served as president and debutante chair of the Symphony League of Beaumont, as solicitations chair of the Junior League of Beaumont, as social chair of the Neches River Festival and on the boards of the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont Family Services and other organizations. The former Susan Williams, she is a 1968 elementary-education graduate of Lamar University who taught at Fletcher Elementary School.

“We are both Beaumont natives, and we’ve been affiliated with this institution for more than 42 years,” Jimmy said. “That is very, very special. I would say probably nowhere in the country would you find that kind of relationship with a president and a university.”

The record …

Jimmy led the university into an era of dynamic growth and faced such obstacles as hurricanes Rita (in 2005) and Ike (in 2008). In the wake of the damaging storms, Jimmy and his faithful team kept classes and graduation on schedule, restoring the campus and adding state-of-the-art facilities. In the spring of 2008, under Jimmy’s leadership, the university launched its first comprehensive campaign, “Investing in the Future,” that has now raised more than $100 million.
Jimmy is well known for his love of music and has shared his wonderful talent at hundreds of events and gatherings playing clarinet, saxophone and piano. He is also credited for being the driving force behind bringing football back to Lamar after a 21-year absence. And, of course, he favors the marching band. Among the many honors Jimmy has enjoyed are being named Newsmaker of the Year in both 1999 and 2009 and Newsmaker of the Decade by the Press Club of Southeast Texas.

The sponsorship …

The annual Chef’s Delight is co-sponsored by the SARA and the Golden Triangle Chefs Association. During this fun-filled evening, a silent auction will be conducted. Auction packages include trips to the wine county in Napa Valley and in Texas as well as weekend trips to Austin and San Antonio. One special package features a dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Simmons, along with other themed meals and dinners. For sports lovers, there will be a weekend at New Orleans’ Royal Sonnesta with field-level seats for the Saints-Falcons game, plus several packages featuring our own Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, as well as the Houston Rockets and a weekend at the Houston Rodeo. The golfers will enjoy packages featuring rounds of golf both locally and at the Wildcat Golf Club and Tour 18.

Thirty auction packages will be offered during the evening’s excitement. Proceeds support SARA scholarships and its $250,000 endowment gift to Lamar’s Hospitality Management program, the livestock auctions at the Southeast Texas State Fair, Golden Triangle Homeless Shelters, and other local charities.
Charles Duit, Culinary Arts Program chef instructor, said, “Where else but in Beaumont, Texas would two foodservice-based organizations, the Golden Triangle Chefs Association and the Sabine Area Restaurant Association, come together for 24 years and counting to raise funds to help educate the future workers of the hospitality industry through our own Lamar University Hospitality Program? Local monies raised to support local students and benefit local businesses. I like that!”

For additional information, contact event co-chairs Frank Messina of Debb’s and Messina Liquors (409) 833-8854, or call Dr. Molly J. Dahm at Lamar University (409) 880-1744 to purchase tickets. Individual tickets are $60 or a table for 10 at $600.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.