The Distinguished Career of ACOR Chef Mohammed Adawi

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Chef Mohammed Adawi received the W.F. Albright Service Award from Director Dr. Barbara A. Porter on 6 December 2015 in a ceremony at ACOR. The award recognizes his long and outstanding service to ACOR. Photo by S. Harpending.

Since ACOR’s founding in 1968, Chef Mohammed (Abu Ahmed) Adawi has been preparing meals for ACOR fellows, staff, board members, and guests – and helping ACOR create a sense of community in Jordan. We are pleased that ASOR (the American Schools of Oriental Research) recently recognized Abu Ahmed with its W. F. Albright Service Award for his outstanding service contribution to ACOR.

In honor of this important recognition, we share ACOR Director Barbara Porter’s touching profile of Abu Ahmed’s remarkable career and the significant contributions he has made over the years to the center’s success.

Mohammed, the eldest of five children, comes from the Palestinian village of Zakariyya, located northwest of Hebron, where his father was a shopkeeper. When the Adawis became refugees in 1948, the family moved to a camp in Jericho. Already at a young age, Mohammed had become the family’s main breadwinner and made money selling things, including kerosene for lamps. He even had an early job working on the construction of the Sweileh-Naur Road which leads from Amman to the Jordan Valley.

The family place in the Jericho camp was located near Tell es Sultan and in 1956 he was registered by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon to be one of the workers at the site. Getting his foot into the Jericho excavation was the initial key to his future work with archaeologists. He first assisted Philip Hammond whose trench demanded heavy dirt moving, so Mohammed was glad to switch to Henk Franken’s area where the work was more delicate. A year later, Franken engaged him to run his project house in Jericho. Thus he was no longer working on site but supporting archaeological work by taking care of a home and learning how to cook.

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Abu Ahmed shown preparing ACOR’s Thanksgiving meal in November 1982. Photo from ACOR archive.

Among the scholars who visited Franken’s Jericho house was John Strugnell who was working on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. He asked Mohammed to come to Jerusalem and so for 1958–60 Mohammed worked for him there. During those years Mohammed regularly passed the Jerusalem School (now the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research) during his shopping rounds and when Strugnell left Jerusalem he suggested that Mohammed apply for a job there. At that time Marvin Pope was the school director (1959–60) and his wife took Mohammed in hand.


ACOR: A Home Away from Home

Give to the ACOR Annual Fund today to ensure that ACOR’s researchers and guests continue to enjoy a few of the comforts of home while living in Jordan. Through your support, ACOR will remain a place where scholars can enjoy Abu Ahmed’s home-cooked meals and feel at home in a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment.


At the Jerusalem School he was the assistant to Omar Jibrin, the head chef, and during that time they served under several directors: Oleg Grabar (1960–61); Paul Lapp (1961–66); George Mendenhall (1965–66); and John Marks (1966–67). Those years in Jerusalem, which Abu Ahmed remembers as some of the best of his life, also saw him get married and start his own family. In 1961 Lapp invited Mohammed to cook for his dig team at Iraq al Amir, his first such experience. The following year he was recommended to serve as a chef for G.E. Wright’s Shechem (Tell Balatah) excavations. During this period Mohammed also worked as project cook at Tell er Rumeith, Tanaach, the Wadi ed Daliyeh Caves, and Bab ed Dhra.

In June 1967, Mohammed and his family left Jerusalem to stay in the home of an uncle in Jericho. Mohammed tried to get back to his own home in Jerusalem but he and hundreds of others were prevented from returning to the city and diverted to the other side of the Jordan River. He made his way to Zarqa on the northeast edge of Amman as he had relatives there. Eventually his mother received word as to where he was and the whole family arrived en masse. Most of them still live in Zarqa in homes that they have been able to build over the years.

For the rest of 1967, Mohammed managed to find a job in a coffee shop in downtown Amman, while some extra money came in from donations from old Jerusalem friends who had heard of his plight and sent small donations to help him and his family. In spring 1968 he was gainfully employed again as an assistant in the field as he worked for Crystal Bennett at Tawilan near Petra. Through the Department of Antiquities, he received a letter from Siegfried Horn engaging him as project cook for the Hesban dig. On the Hesban project,  Mohammed met many of the people he would see regularly at ACOR for the next three decades.

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Abu Ahmed and his family have been key to ACOR’s success over the years. In this photo taken at ACOR’s 2015 Holiday meal are (left to right) Ghassan Adawi, Assistant Chef since 2009; Mohammed “Abu Ahmed” Adawi, Chef since 1968; Abed Adawi, Building Manager since 1992; and Said Adawi, Facilitator since 1988. Photo by Barbara Porter.

In 1968 Rudy Dornemann became the first annual professor director of ACOR and he hired Mohammed, who began work after the Hesban season. For a short time the Dornemanns lived in an apartment near the First Circle in Jabal Amman which is counted as ACOR’s first location. Mohammed recalls learning a lot from Mrs. Dorneman as well as Vivian Van Elderen, Sue Sauer, and Linda McCreery. Many of the recipes discussed with them are still enjoyed today! And as ACOR grew and expanded, first moving to the area of the Third Circle, then to the Fifth/Sixth Circle area in 1977, and then finally to its current location opposite the University of Jordan in 1986, Mohammed and his array of American classics and authentic Jordanian and Palestinian dishes helped make ACOR a home away from home for the countless fellows, guests, and visitors who passed through its doors.

The young man who caught the eye of Kathleen Kenyon in 1956 has met many archaeological figures over the decades and has countless stories to share. It has been my privilege to convey some of his personal story and acknowledge his major role in the success of ACOR. We benefit greatly from his cooking but also from his wisdom, his sensibility, and his amazing memory.

Adapted from Barbara A. Porter’s article “Mohammed Adawi Remembers,” in the Summer 2008 ACOR Newsletter (Vol. 20.1), special 40th anniversary issue.

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