Michael Whalen, catering director at The Sink, delivers food for Theta Xi Fraternity in Boulder on Monday. Whalen is used to cooking for a big crew of
Michael Whalen, catering director at The Sink, delivers food for Theta Xi Fraternity in Boulder on Monday. Whalen is used to cooking for a big crew of college kids. Colorado Daily/Jessica Cuneo ( JESSICA CUNEO )
Crowd-pleasing chili

What you need:

1 lb. ground beef

1 small onion

1 green bell pepper

1 can tomato sauce

1 can Mexican-style chili beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Directions: brown ground beef. Sautee the onion and bell pepper. Combine all ingredients into a pot. Let simmer on low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Roger Steward, head chef at CU's Alpha Chi Omega house

F ew people know as much about cooking for a crowd as Mike Whalen, catering director for Boulder's The Sink restaurant and head of their fraternity meal program.

Whalen cooks and coordinates meals twice a day, five days a week for about 70 of Boulder's fraternity members.

Even though the brothers of the Alpha Sigma Phi and Theta Xi fraternities aren't picky eaters, Whalen said making a meal that satisfies everyone is a challenge. But he's perfected a few recipes over the years that are sure to please a crowd.

Pasta dishes are tasty and filling without too much work for the cook, Whalen said.

One of Whalen's specialties is adult mac 'n' cheese, a delicious twist on the traditional comfort food.

"I make homemade mac and cheese, but you could easily substitute the box kind to make it even quicker," Whalen said. "Toss in some ham, bacon and jalepenos and you've got a quick meal that can be multiplied to feed as many people as you need."


Whalen suggests the adult mac and cheese for roommates who will save a few bucks buying ingredients in bulk and dividing up the cost.

Another cost-friendly alternative is a taco or burrito buffet.

Whether it's your turn to cook for your roomies, or you're hosting a weekend bash with lots of hungry guests, Whalen said a Mexican buffet is the perfect way to get everyone involved.

"Have everyone bring something for the buffet," Whalen said. "Someone can bring peppers, someone else is in charge of cheese, another person can bring taco shells and you provide the meat."

Salsa, guacamole, sour cream -- the endless toppings can help divide up the cost of the meal, and it lets everyone make their own version, so no complaints, he said.

Chili is another great buffet meal with tons of topping options, Whalen said, plus you can freeze the leftovers and have ready-made meals for weeks.

Roger Steward is the head chef at the University of Colorado's Alpha Chi Omega house, where he cooks for about 80 sorority members every day. With so many mouths to feed, Steward said chili is one of his favorite dishes to make, especially this time of year.

"The great thing about chili is that it's easy, and you can make so many meals with the leftovers," Steward said. "For students who may not have all of the seasonings that I would typically put in chili, you can just buy a packet of taco seasoning and use that instead. It's a great substitute to buying a ton of different seasonings."

Chili is a simple, inexpensive crowd-pleaser for Alpha Chi Omega's army of women, but he recommends a basic pot of chili for small crowds as well since the leftovers can make a variety of meals.

He suggests putting the leftover chili on hot dogs or baked potatoes to change it up a little without having to do much work.

Besides the cost benefits of eating in a group, Whalen said cooking for a crowd can be fun -- you can get your roommates together for a weekly meal or offer to host a chili cook-off at your place in celebration of the fall and get creative.

"Cooking should be fun," Whalen said. "You can learn a lot from each other's ideas, and it just makes for a good time."