By Jordan Schroeer
Most students can name a dish family members make that no one can beat. Whether it’s Grandma’s roasts or Mom’s mashed potatoes, talk of those foods brings happy memories and a growling stomach.
However, when attending MSUM one dish quickly becomes a new favorite: Chicken tortilla soup.
“I didn’t eat it until mid-November of this year,” Hannah Lorentz, a junior business administration major said. “I’ve been missing out!”
Now Lorentz is among the many students salivating over MSUM’s chicken tortilla soup, made from scratch in the early hours of the morning at Kise.
“The company does have its own recipe, but ours is unique,” Deb Nordgaard, executive chef at Kise Commons said. “It’s a real handwritten recipe.”
Veteran production cook Cathy Michaelson handwrote the recipe and tweaked it for nearly 30 years. “I’ve tried different variations,” Michaelson said. Eventually she perfected a recipe that’s “a little creamier” than ones made in the past.
Michaelson is part of the first graduating class from the Wahpeton Culinary School in 1974 and has been stirring up creations at MSUM since 1987.
Thursdays, chicken tortilla soup day, Michaelson arrives at 6 a.m. to make 30 to 32 gallons of her specialty.
“The Dragon Stop gets about nine gallons and Subs and Sweets about four,” Michaelson said.
The recipe calls for 30 pounds of chicken and eight gallons of Kise’s homemade salsa. The spices mixed into the soup come in five pound containers. All of these ingredients plus more are combined by Michaelson who likes to cook “just like your mothers and grandmothers at home.”
The soup is more than a delicious meal; some claim it can lead to long-lasting relationships.
“I met my wife over chicken tortilla soup,” Adam Voigt, residential dining manager at MSUM said. “We had Tuesday and Thursday soup dates.”
The 2005 MSUM graduate would gather with some of his friends, including his now wife, and chat over some soup and a sandwich.
Those soup dates eventually turned into four years of dating and a marriage.
“If you don’t want to get married, be careful who you eat soup with,” Voigt said.
Chicken tortilla soup is also used to promote the campus on Dragon or preview days.
“People have said, ‘I’m coming here for the soup,’” Nordgaard said.
Even Dragon Ambassadors mention the delicacy when showing MSUM to perspective students.
“When the soup is part of a tour, that means something,” Voigt said.
“I had a professor who would let us out early on Thursday because we could smell the soup,” Lorentz said. “It was in MacLean and mmmmm, you couldn’t pay attention with that smell surrounding you. All you heard was stomach’s growling.”
While future and current students rave about the soup, you won’t find Michaelson, a native Minnesotan, grabbing a bowl.
“It’s too spicy for me,” she said, then added, “my son likes it.”
“Tastes like something my grandmother would make,” Lorentz said. “Just wow. It reminds me of home, which is nice because I don’t get too many home-cooked meals.”
If Lorentz or anyone else wants to recreate Michaelson’s specialty, they won’t get a chance.
“There’s no leaking of the recipe,” Nordgaard said. “It’s top secret.”
Even when those holding higher positions in Sodexo, the food service company on campus, request the recipe, they’re denied.
“People have said if they’ve gone here, they miss it,” Michaelson said.
While most students don’t want anything changed about chicken tortilla soup, Lorentz has one suggestion. “My only critique, make the bowl bigger.”