Gerry Kent Makes Sunflower Hummus

This sunflower version has an earthier character, more herbaceous than a garbanzo-rich hummus. Less saltiness. Less acidity. 

To my palate, most often homemade hummus tastes better than storebought, especially when spiked with ingredients that provide a tantalizing twist. I could hardly wait for chef Gerry Kent to show me how to prepare his sunflower hummus, a tasty, garbanzo-free version that is teamed with perfectly sauteed mushrooms.  

Kent and his business partner Chad Dickey recently opened the 174-seat Public Legacy restaurant at the Stadium Promenade center in Orange. The two also own restaurants in Temecula (Public House) and Murrieta (Downtown Public). They pride themselves on menus that showcase seasonal ingredients crafted into approachable dishes—elevated comfort food, as well as refined classics.  

Sunflower hummus is one option on Public Legacy’s starter menu. The creamy mix requires a 24-hour soak of raw sunflower seeds before they are pureed in a food processor along with tahini, fresh lemon juice, and a blend of olive oil and canola oil. 

He explained that his sunflower version has an earthier character, more herbaceous than a garbanzo-rich hummus. Less saltiness. Less acidity. 

Photographs by Curt Norris

Precise about sauteing mushrooms to reach a deep caramelized mahogany hue, he took precautions not to toss them too much during high-heat cooking. He let them reach perfection using patience and know-how. The taste and texture rewarded his effort. He pan-sauteed them but advised that they could be oven roasted, warning not to salt too soon or they would boil in the released liquid rather than sauteing.  

He topped off a generous smear of hummus spooned on a dinner plate with the mushrooms. On the side, made-in-house, pan-toasted sourdough bread. The bread, made using a 30-year-old starter, was over-the-moon delectable. It was interesting to see how he used a panini-like approach to toasting it in a skillet with hot extra-virgin olive oil, weighting it down with a sturdy plate set on top. 

Leftover sunflower hummus can be used as a filling for sandwiches. I like to add slices of heirloom tomatoes and baby arugula. He suggested that it is delicious stirred into vinaigrettes to dress salads.  

I know it’s a starter, but I could make this a meal. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

Public Legacy, 1547 West Katella Ave. (at Main Street), Orange (near the Honda Center) 

Favorite Knife: My Aura chef knife: the most money I have ever spent but it is the most comfortable. It feels like a tuning fork, you can feel the cuts. 

Best Luxury: The internet and social media provides ability for cooks of the world to share information and discoveries. 

New Ingredient of Interest: Koji and fermentation have been a bit of a thing for the past five years. 

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Home Freezer: I hope there is ice cream—Jamocha Almond Fudge, vanilla, or a world-class chocolate, or gelato—either hazelnut espresso or gianduia. 

Cooking Mentors: Chef Louie Jocson and chef-restaurateur Franco Barone, but honestly, I have learned from all my coworkers.  

Best advice: From my dad who taught me not to be afraid to try anything yourself. 

Collections: I collect information about everything. I have a bit of a photographic memory (not always right). 

Ten Years from Now: Spend time on my 80 acres (in southern San Diego County); maybe open a glamping spot for 10 to 12 Airstreams and some food classes. 


Gerry Kent’s Sunflower Seed Hummus with Sauteed Mushrooms 

Yield: about 8 servings of hummus, 1 to 2 servings mushrooms 

  • 1 quart raw, unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds, soaked in water to cover for 24 hours, drained, see cook’s notes 
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice 
  • 3 dehydrated garlic cloves, chopped, see cook’s notes 
  • 1 cup blend of canola oil and neutral olive oil 
  • 4 ounces tahini 
  • Salt to taste 
  • Ice, if needed to correct consistency 
  • Sliced sourdough bread 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus 3 tablespoons, divided use 
  • 1 generous cup sliced cremini mushrooms, see cook’s notes 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 
  • Optional: 1 shallot, finely diced 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives 
  • Mix of dried basil, parsley, and dried red chili flakes 
  • Salt to taste, freshly ground black pepper 

Cook’s notes: To reduce soaking time to 4 to 6 hours, soak seeds in hot water. If you don’t have dehydrated garlic cloves, omit garlic. You can use a mix of fresh mushrooms if you like. 

  1. Place soaked and drained sunflower seeds in food processor; add lemon juice and if using, dehydrated garlic. Pulse to chop and scrape down sides of work bowl with rubber spatula. Process until pureed; it should not be gritty. With motor running pour in oil in thin stream. Add tahini and process until combined. Taste and add salt as needed, and perhaps a little more lemon juice. If too thick, add an ice cube and process. If needed, add additional ice cube(s), to attain dipping consistency. Set aside.
  2. Heat about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add sliced sourdough bread and toast well on both sides. Cut each slice in half. Set aside.
  3. Sauté mushrooms: In large, deep skillet heat 3 tablespoons olive il on high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until starting to brown. Add garlic, shallot (if using), chives, and dried herb mix. Continue to cook until nicely browned. Add salt to taste and toss.
  4. For each portion, spoon a generous amount of hummus of dinner plater and using the back of a spoon, smear on plate. Top with mushrooms. Season with black pepper. If desired, top with some snipped fresh chives. Add toasted bread.

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.” For more than 35 years, she has written about cooking, chefs, and food trends.