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NMSU Taos Restaurant bakers specialize in cookies

About 30 minutes before lunchtime, New Mexico State University’s Taos Restaurant kitchen is in full bloom. In particular, the dessert table serves as a canvas for bakers Betty Gillie and Pat Sermeno, who are responsible for satisfying the sweet tooth for Taos Restaurant customers.

NMSU bakers prepare desserts for lunch at Corbett Center's Taos Restaurant
Betty Gillie and Pat Sermeno, background, have baked with NMSU for a combined 20 years, creating desserts such as cookies, specialty cheesecakes and trifles for Corbett Center's Taos Restaurant at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Ada Ciuca)

The duo takes on Italian dream cakes, specialty cheesecakes, apple cobblers and trifles, but it is their delicious cookies that have the NMSU community talking. They have done everything from orange sparkler, to angel, molasses, chocolate chip, oatmeal and gingerbread cookies.

“The feedback has been excellent,” Sermeno said. “Everybody loves them.”

As evidence of that love, Gillie and Sermeno baked around 5,000 cookies for NMSU’s annual Employee Appreciation Picnic. They also get requests for Christmas and other themed cookies.

Between the two of them, the women have 20 years of experience working at NMSU under the direction of Sodexo, the company that oversees most on-campus dining at NMSU.

“Betty and Pat provide invaluable experience as professional bakers, ensuring that Sodexo’s valued guests receive delicious and freshly baked desserts straight from our on-site kitchen,” Sodexo unit marketing coordinator John Rivers said.

After working as a baking manager in Alabama and Wisconsin, Gillie moved to New Mexico to be closer to her daughter. She started working at NMSU nine years ago, three of which have been with Sodexo.

“I thought that this was the perfect transition for me, and I enjoyed it,” Gillie said. “You have to love what you’re doing.”

On a typical day of work, Gillie wakes up at 2:30 a.m. and arrives on campus by 3:30. Working behind the scenes all day with Sermeno, the women spend each day working on lunch as soon as breakfast is over and applying the same regimen to the available time between lunch and dinner.

Sermeno is a Las Cruces native, so it was no surprise when she decided to work at NMSU. She has been in the food service industry for more than 20 years, 11 being on campus. Her decision to stay was based on a desire to work in a place where the goal was to make students feel at home.

“It’s been a great 11 years,” Sermeno said. “I started out as a server and now I’m back in the kitchen and it’s been a great experience.”

When asked about her baking journey, she humbly credited Gillie as her mentor and baking secret. She learned how to bake cookies while helping out Gillie and emphasized the importance of that mentorship for her career at NMSU.
On her part, Gillie has always baked for her family, and her love of baking led her to the university. However, she did not bake cookies before joining the Sodexo team. Today, she enjoys the process, especially when it involves fancier creations for catering.

Gillie credits the old cookie recipes passed down from her family. A favorite is the sugar cookie recipe that has been around for longer than she can remember. The secret, she said, is making sure the ingredients are good and having a great baking partner. “Between Pat and I- we’re a good team,” Gillie said.

“They truly enjoy their craft and value the people that they serve, and it shows in the exemplary baked goods prepared specially for university special events and our daily guests,” Rivers said.

At the end of the day, both women are thankful for the opportunities brought on by working with Sodexo at NMSU. “They say that if you love what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life,” Gillie said.