Matthew Murray cleaned his plate by chowing down on his mom's famous chicken and sausage gumbo despite her being more than a thousand miles away in Louisiana.
The University of Colorado junior described the experience of feasting on a meal he'd grown up eating while seated in CU's Sewall dining hall as "surreal."
Murray's Monday night dinner is courtesy of a CU program, the Taste of Home, which asked CU families to submit recipes close to students' hearts that they missed devouring while away at school.
"Mine was submitted without my knowledge," he said, cracking a smile. "My mom did it. She's always interacting with CU behind my back."
Despite the sneak-attack entry, Murray was pleased to see a Southern favorite such as gumbo make its way onto a Colorado menu.
"This gumbo is a little more like a soup," he said, going into the specifics of how to produce a hearty roux to make the broth thicker. "I'm a bit of a purist, but it did it justice. It seems like they actually had Andouille sausage, which I'm impressed by."
A Taste of Home, the brainchild of CU's New Student and Family Programs, is in its second year and growing in popularity, said Amber Cardamone, director of the programs.
"Part of this stemmed from wanting to have more increased parent engagement on our campus and knowing how critical parent, families and support systems are in student success," Cardamone said. "And to give that little piece of home back to students, especially during finals time, where it can be high stress."
About 80 families submitted recipes, which campus chefs whittled down to 24 that will be cooked and served up in different CU dining halls this week.
"I think the students really appreciate it," said Polly Pollard, executive chef in campus dining services.
The project gives campus chefs a chance to show off their creative chops.
For example, the chefs are challenged trying to replicate a meal usually meant for a kitchen table full of folks to make enough for a full-blown dining hall serving thousands.
They also get to incorporate some new ingredients, such as the Doritos chips that one selected recipe uses crushed up in a casserole.
"We try to stay as true to the recipe as we possibly can," Pollard said.
The next batches of home-inspired foods will be served from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Village Center and from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for Community dining hall.
The program is getting such a good reputation, Cardamone said, that officials are considering expanding it to happen once a semester.
"We've almost tripled the number of recipes we've received this year," Cardamone said. "Families love to be connected back to our community."
Murray doesn't miss Louisiana's humidity, but he sure missed gumbo.
As for the surprise of learning a dining hall full of people would be treated to a meal meant especially for him, he said his reaction was akin to "a hearty shrug."
The astrophysics major and math minor noted his mom also submitted a recipe for his younger brother who also attended CU — a Mexican chicken casserole — that got selected, as well. That dish wasn't his favorite, he said. Murray is glad his mom picked the gumbo for the meal dedicated to him.
"I guess I'm glad she submitted it," he said, sheepishly. "I'm most glad people in Colorado are eating Southern food. The word needs to get out about gumbo."
Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org