Students constantly run through the Morris University Center, going through Starbucks, Kaldi's or Auntie Anne's. However, if anyone wants a full-fledged meal, they head straight downstairs for some home cooking. Yet, few know who is in charge of all of their dining needs.
Head Cook Betty Matesa started cooking at nine years old. She is 57 years old and has worked at SIUE for 27 years. She will retire Jan. 1.
"I'll probably be bored for the first couple months," Matesa said. "I plan on doing a lot of traveling and babysitting for my grandkids."
Matesa started out as a kitchen helper and worked her way up to head cook, a position she has held for almost 10 years. She went through positions in the breakfast line and the midnight shift, among others.
Matesa said she will miss the friendships she has made the most. One co-worker, Rob Segall, who works the breakfast line at the grill, has been like a brother to her. They have a close relationship and Matesa said he is someone she can argue with in the morning and within and hour they are not angry anymore.
"He's been here longer than I have and he's younger," Matesa said. "We've just all been together so long, it's second nature not to have them with you every day."
Segall has known Matesa as long as she has worked at SIUE and said they have become close because of working together every day.
"I'm going to miss her a lot. She's a good friend, good co-worker," Segall said. "She's always here for me. She's an all around good person. She's going to be missed."
According to Segall, she has been a positive influence on Dining Services and there is "hardly anything she can't do with a recipe."
"She's a great cook. She can cook anything and everything," Segall said. "Any kind of recipe you put in front of her she can do it."
Prior to SIUE, Matesa worked at The Gardens in Litchfield and Olin Corporation. She began cooking through being involved in 4-H Club, which she was a part of for 9 years.
"Instead of brownies or Girl Scouts, in the country you did 4-H," Matesa said.
A friend got a job at SIUE, causing Matesa to apply and she said she came here because of the benefits, more money and her husband was unemployed at the time.
Matesa said her former jobs are similar to her work at SIUE.
"I was the head cook in [a] restaurant business. It was like cooking on the line for the restaurant food [and] individual meals. On a holiday, we'd be super, super busy," Matesa said.
Matesa likes cooking up the holiday menus but said the choices have changed with the students' tastes. They have gone from making sweet potato casserole (sweet potatoes with marshmallows) for Thanksgiving to mashed sweet potatoes with praline topping, which Matesa said is like a sweet potato souffle.
"It's more condensed and we've changed items to what the kids more like to eat. Back in the 80s it was the old traditions. Now it's more modern traditions," Matesa said.
According to Matesa, she does not have a specialty but comes across challenges such as cooking dishes for International Night such as butter chicken.
"I just like doing it all," Matesa said. "Some days it's a challenge."
Getting the right ingredients sometimes presents problems, according to Matesa.
"Some days if we don't have [the right ingredients], you have to hurry up and make something off the top of your head," Matesa said.
When she first gets to work, Matesa starts cooking everything and works on a deadline to get breakfast and the lunch line out.
"Where I'm in charge, the entree line gets some food ready for the grill area [and the] deli area. The afternoon shift gets things ready for Woodland Hall," Matesa said.
They also cook for parties and some days, like this Friday when they will entertain seven parties, can become quite busy. Matesa said they cook for people who work on campus, such as the deans, and they also go to the chancellor's house, but the majority of cooking is for the campus.
What keeps Matesa interested in cooking is that she loves to eat and the compliments she receives.
"It's nice when people compliment you on your achievements, making it look edible just by the look of it," Matesa said. "You can create something from nothing and make it look like…you just want to dive right into the food."