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‘We never thought it would be this popular’: Campus Dining, students discuss Southwest Salad

| Thursday, September 26, 2019


Danny McMaster looks forward to lunch on Thursdays. He knows he will file up to the salad bar and order a serving of Notre Dame’s celebrity meal: the Southwest Salad. (Editor’s Note: McMaster is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer.)

“Every student at Notre Dame could be in the line and I’d still get in the back of it,” the senior said.  

Campus Dining serves between 1,200 and 1,500 of the wildly popular dish every week at both dining halls for Thursday lunch. The salad includes beans, corn, Frito chips and fried chicken with chipotle ranch dressing on top.

Chef Greg Larson, who runs North Dining Hall, did not expect the salad he created ten years ago to become a campus sensation.

“You know, we never thought it would be this popular, and we’re a little baffled about why it is so popular,” he said in an interview.

Larson started tossing the salad in 2009 when Campus Dining launched a program called “interactive salads.” The program consisted of 10 salads which dining hall workers would toss individually for students in the dining room during the week. 

Soon, Larson began receiving emails asking for the Southwest Salad to make an appearance every week. Campus Dining started entertaining the requests in 2012, and moved the salad to Thursday afternoons in 2016.

Even though Larson said he does not know why the salad gained popularity, he suspects the preparation of the chicken has something to do with it.

“I think the crispy chicken is really what set it off, because all the other salads got grilled chicken, so it was like this indulgent salad,” he said. 

Director of Student Dining Luigi Alberganti wonders whether the texture of the salad could make it popular.

“You have the corn, you have the bean, you have the crunch of the chips that we put in there, plus the crunch of the chicken,” he said. “That could be a contributing factor for the popularity of it.”

Still, others think the source of the dish’s fame cannot be found on a plate.

Director of Campus Dining Chris Abayasinghe turns to ancient Japanese wisdom to describe the salad’s appeal.

“There’s something in our culinary world called ‘umami,’’’ Abayasinghe explained. “[It’s] the essence that can’t be pronounced, that is beyond the six senses.”

“It’s an additional flavor that is created when all the flavors come together,” Alberganti added. 

Praise of the salad by students suggests Abayasinghe may be right.

When asked whether he will get the Southwest Salad for the rest of his final year at Notre Dame, McMaster responded without hesitation.

“Yeah, 100%,” he said.

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