This past Monday evening (April 23), I was excited to take part in the “Taste of the Capital Region” fundraiser presented by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady. My friend Shane Bargy (Exec. Director of the B&G Clubs) shamed me into asked me to be one of the event’s amateur chefs, and of course I can never say “no” to an opportunity to cook, and to get out in front of lots of people.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I prepared “Black & White Hummus”, which consisted of black bean and white bean hummuses (hummii?), served with pita chips. There were 34 other chefs at the event, serving everything from pasta e fagioli,  surf & turf bruschetta, and chicken wontons to cookie dough brownies, bread pudding, and tiramisu mini cupcakes. Plus lots of beer and wine.

The event, summed up in a few bullets:

  • My hummus was not a big seller. The people who tried it loved it, but it was generally met with more scowls than smiles. Apparently, hummus is still an “unknown” food in these parts. People are afraid of it, for whatever reason. And I realized that it was mostly men that were terrified of trying it. One guy actually said to me, “If you show me what a baby hummus looks like, I’ll try it.” Sigh. 
  • Since I wasn’t able to give away much of it, I had quite a bit leftover. This is where fate stepped in. At the next table was my friend Marc Renson, owner of Ambition Cafe in Schenectady. We had been chatting all evening, and Marc tried (and really liked) both versions of my hummus. Towards the end of the night, I mentioned to Marc that I was pretty sure I was going to have a bunch left over and didn’t know what I was going to do with it. He turned to me with a serious look on his face, and said, “I’ll take it. I’ll serve it at the restaurant. We’re doing a ‘Dining Out for Life‘ event on Thursday, and I’m sure I can work it into a special or two.” I took him up on the offer (and there may be some $$ in it for the Boys & Girls Clubs), and Marc proudly served the hummus as part of a sandwich special during the event! He was gracious enough to mention me a few times in his Facebook posts, too. So, my hummus, while not what I’d call popular, has been able to help raise money for two very important causes. Which is pretty great.
  • I didn’t win. First place in the Appetizer/Entree – Amateur category went to someone else. But a little birdie told me that the judges scored my hummus very high, and I actually came in a very close second. This is hearsay, of course, but I’ll take what I can get. Get a list of competitors and winners here. Congratulations to all!
  • The event had a very special surprise “celebrity” guest: Gianni Russo, the guy who played Carlo Rizzi (abusive husband of Connie Corleone) in The Godfather. Forty years ago. I’m not really sure why this guy is still famous, but people seem to enjoy having him at events. He’s appeared at a bunch of Schenectady events over the past few years; someone told me his son lives around here.  It would have been nice if he had actually paid attention to where he was and didn’t thank everyone for helping the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts (the giant Boys & Girls Clubs banners hanging around the room didn’t clue him in). I really dislike that kind of carelessness. It just makes me think that he thinks he’s far too important to pay attention to details. Anyway, he yakked on and on about how he “beat Vito Corleone’s daughter and look at him now.” Nice. Some interesting “facts” I found about this guy on Wikipedia: Russo claims that he has personally known three popes, five United States Presidents and every Mafia boss in the United States. He also claims to have had romantic trysts with Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liza Minnelli. Over the years since the beginning of his career, he has owned a Las Vegas restaurant called Gianni Russo’s State Street, dated Dionne Warwick for more than a decade and claims to have successfully defeated 23 federal criminal indictments on a variety of charges stemming from alleged organized crime associations. Sure.
All in all, a great night.  The event was a tremendous success; it raised more than $25,000, which will benefit thousands of children in Schenectady County. Congratulations to Shane Bargy, the staff of the Boys & Girls Clubs, and Event Chair Jamie Durante Rogowski (from O’Connell & Aronowitz – Attorneys at Law). 
Gianni Russo, star of stage and screen.
Wendalicious, her hummus, and the extra chin that magically appears whenever someone takes out a camera.

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