Dave Woodward aka Chef Dave Millsaps Executive Chef

Joey Lee

March 25, 2024

"Seeing people enjoying and bonding over food that comes out of my kitchen, that’s what keeps me going."

It has been said that an army runs on its stomach. The same can be true for a college. Fortunately, Millsaps has Dave Woodward at the helm of its food services. His journey, from roaming the grounds of Millsaps as a child to running the college’s dining services, is a testament to his dedication and love not only for cooking but for the college itself.

When he was just 2 years old, his family moved to Jackson where his father would serve in various roles at Millsaps including chaplain and dean of students.

Back in the day, some faculty and staff lived on campus, Dave was one of the lucky ones who grew up a resident of Millsaps, his childhood home is what we know today as Rueben’s.

“Growing up on campus was great! I had my own little world here, a 9-hole golf course, basketball court, a wooded area and Belhaven right across the street,” he said. “I always had someone to play with, other faculty lived on campus and there were plenty of kids.”

One thing he really enjoyed was the opportunity to redecorate his room every year. “At the end of the school year, I could walk around campus and have my pick of all the furniture and accessories students were throwing away because they didn’t want to lug it home for the summer,” he said.

Chef Dave’s culinary voyage began at local eateries in and around Jackson, including the nearby Keiffer’s. As he discovered his passion for cooking, he began planning a journey to Vermont where he attended the New England Culinary Institute.

After completing school, Dave landed an internship on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. He then went to a local restaurant called the Old Fort Pub, where he fully embraced the culinary landscape of the state’s low-country cooking.

Upon his return to Jackson, he worked at a restaurant before going to Valley Food Services. When Valley took over Millsaps’ food service, Dave jumped at the opportunity. “I bleed purple,” he said. “So, it felt like coming home.”

And for the past 34 years, he has been satisfying the tastes of generations of students, faculty, staff and dignitaries of all sorts, feeding the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Jane Goodall, Newt Gingrich and space shuttle astronauts to name a few.

“When I first got back to Millsaps, the Caf was a big, dark dining room that was very militaristic. You went in one end, went down the line and then you exited the other end,” he said. “But we renovated in the 90s, making the space much more inviting and welcoming.”

Trying to cater to a multitude of tastes can be a challenge. Over the years Dave has noted how tastes have changed over the years. “Now they lean to the healthier options,” he said. “But they’ll still destroy a good cheeseburger!”

One of the most challenging but rewarding times he faced was when the New Orleans Saints held their summer training camp at Millsaps. “Those were some long days, starting at 4 a.m. and going until after 9 p.m. But they were a fun bunch,” he said. “It was also weird because players were fined by the pound if they were too heavy, or too light. So, you’d see 300-pound linemen eating salads and skinny little receivers just loading their trays up with everything they could find!”

Reflecting on his journey, he fondly recalls the camaraderie and sense of family that defines the Millsaps community. As he navigates the bustling kitchen, he takes pride in fostering a warm and inviting atmosphere where students and faculty alike can gather to savor not just a meal, but an experience.

Chef Dave’s passion for his craft remains undiminished. Whether he’s cooking for the Saints, a prime minister or a lonely incoming freshman, he finds joy in the simple act of seeing others enjoy his creations. “It’s the immediate gratification that I think I like most,” he said. “Seeing people enjoying and bonding over food that comes out of my kitchen, that’s what keeps me going.”

As he looks to the future, he remains committed to his craft, driven by a deep-rooted love for cooking and a desire to create memorable experiences for those he serves. For Chef Dave, Millsaps isn’t just a place of work — it’s a home where his culinary journey continues to unfold, one dish at a time.