Seeds of Peace: A Day in the Life of a Hummus Judge

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There comes a time in a boy’s life when he must, above all obstacles, rise to the occasion and become a man. For me, that time was Thursday: I was an honorary hummus judge. Organized by the marvelous Maureen Sullivan, “The Hummus Taste-Off” was a small portion of the Seeds of Peace charity spectaculaire, the 12th Annual Peace Market. There, tucked into the Meatpacking District’s M2 venue, two belly dancers trembled their tummies in silky repetition, balancing a plate of flickering candles atop their heads. Another one casually rested a scimitar above her hair. I sat there, in my own little canopy at corner of the room, and gorged on warm, luscious hummus.

A newsletter was sent out yesterday, announcing the winner of the event’s 1st Annual Hummus Taste-Off. It anonymously quotes one of the judges responding to the victorious hummus: “delicious, want to name my first child after it.” That was me. My first child is going to be named 12 Chairs. His classmates will just have to learn to love him. With their snazzy, red plaid outfits, the 12 Chairs servers whipped up the most succulent hummus ever to cushion my taste-buds. The thinly-crushed molecules of chickpea flowed evenly throughout. Scooping the freshly baked, circular pittas into the dip was like lifting precious white sand out of the ocean. Encompassing the center of the mix was a circular mote of olive oil, guarding the dish’s core of full-size chickpeas, a testament to the hummus’ origin.

The tongues of the other judges, Salma Abdelnour, Karine Bakhoum, Shazia Khan, Erin Zimmer, concurred. Bakhoum, a judge from Iron Chef, had the most stringent senses. “But are we being too conservative, by liking the first batch?” I asked her, soon after we politely set aside Casa LaFemme‘s signature spicy hummus, which was accompanied by what looked like a middle-eastern Dorito. Bakhoum disagreed. She looks for rich simplicity in hummus dishes, or as a judge anonymously scribbled, “True to the chickpea.” After dotting on the would-be audience award winning Pera hummus, we ate the final batch of the night, that of Moustache. “No. Too much tahini!” Bakhoum urged and lopped the plate on the table after one bite. I agreed. It was pasty and mono-flavored, like copper colored cream cheese. I ate it anyway. My mouth is a raging critic, my tummy an unconditionally loving mother.

As a hummus judge, you have more clout than expected. I accidentally didn’t receive an entrance wristband, and a bodyguard refused to let me upstairs into the Taste-Off booth. “I can’t let you go up there,” he told me. “I’m sorry, but I’m a hummus judge,” I said firmly. “I need to be there.” He seemed to understand. So when the Fugees’ John Forté and musician/physician/ambassador extraordinaire, Salman Ahmad, graced the stage for a sufi-rock rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” I was ten feet away, clapping at Ahmad’s inspired insistence. The 1000 other guests joined us in the name of conflict resolution, to raise money for youth leadership programs that provide skills for reconciliation and coexistence in conflicted countries. Earlier, one of the judges remarked, “That’s all we would need to solve our problems, this hummus.” My son 12 Chairs and I think it’s worth a try.