Madison's Past


Public Programs

Historical Research



Order Form

Site Map


only search HMI

Carson Gulley

Chef Carson Gulley (1945 ca.)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-48994

Carson Gulley

Gulley (June 9, 1897 – November 2, 1962) was Madison’s most famous chef. One of ten children born on an Arkansas farm, he completed high school in two years despite a heavy load of farm work. He started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher and in time became chef. He was working in a restaurant near Tomahawk in 1926 when D. L. Halvorsen, director of the UW residence halls, tasted his cooking and prevailed upon him to come to Madison. Gulley pursued his artistry at Van Hise Commons of the Lakeshore Dormitories from 1926 to 1954; his food was considered the equal of that served in the finest restaurants. On vacations he traveled in order to improve his knowledge of food preparation and service, from restaurants to fields, orchards and processing plants. During World War II he developed and taught a training course for Navy cooks and bakers. After the war he developed a two-year chef training course at the UW. He had his own radio program, TV show, and cook book - Seasoning Secrets. For many years he and his wife Beatrice lived in an apartment in Tripp Hall; in an impassioned plea to the committee on human rights of the city council he testified “we gave up the hope of ever owning a home of our own in this city.” One result of the hearing was the passage of Madison’s Fair Housing Ordinance, after which the Gulleys bought a home in Crestwood. His patience and painstaking work ethic were part of his philosophy - “Whatever you do, whether in cooking or anything else, to do a good and rewarding job you must strive constantly for perfection. Though perfection is seldom attained, this constant striving is what lifts the individual from mediocrity to the level of outstanding accomplishment.”

He was buried within sight of the eighth green at Glenway Golf Course, where he had a hole-in-one. He and Beatrice once lived at 5522 University Avenue, where he operated a restaurant and catering business. He was a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Milwaukee Consistory, and Milwaukee Shrine.