Mediterranean Vibes

By on July 19, 2017

Chef George Rouche, Figs, Hotel Jackson

(Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When Jim Darwiche of Hotel Jackson recruited Chef George Rouche to head up the kitchen at Figs, he asked if he had any recipes. “No,” Rouche told him. “I cook by feeling. I cook like my mom cooked.” Rouche jumped at the opportunity to move to Jackson Hole even though he left a large Lebanese community, a busy restaurant, and family (including his mother and seven brothers) back in Detroit.

Memories of growing up in the mountains of Lebanon, mostly on his grandfather’s farm, were part of what drew Rouche to Jackson Hole. “When I came here, I was surprised by how beautiful it is—so green and so safe,” he said. “And people here are nice. They make you want to be here.”

Rouche, who lived in Lebanon until the age of 23, has revamped the Figs menu with the Lebanese food he grew up with. Since Hotel Jackson opened in 2015, Figs has always featured a selection of the Darwiche family’s favorites—baba ganoush, hummus and made-to-order pita bread. (Owner Jim Darwiche, after all, happens to be from Lebanon, too.) But now, with Rouche on board full-time, the menu is entirely Lebanese.

Perusing the new Figs menu is like taking a deep dive into the cuisine and culture of Lebanon. There are five types of pita bread and five takes on tartare. There are sliders, salads, kebabs, and dozens more small plates. It is easy to construct meals that please vegans, vegetarians, omnivores and the gluten-free.

Darwiche recommends sharing a variety of small plates so everyone can discover unique bites created by scooping with bread or lettuce cups. “Always include labneh,” he said. Everything goes well with a dollop of labneh—the tart, creamy spread of yogurt that has been salted and strained. Everything is made from scratch with authentic Lebanese ingredients, including extra virgin olive oil pressed not far from Rouche’s boyhood home in Northern Lebanon.

Hummus, an iconic Lebanese food, is a good place to start, and sharing it has social significance beyond just filling your belly. Rouche’s traditional hummus may be the best I’ve ever tasted but I am still working my way through each of the eight home-style versions Rouche makes fresh every day.

By offering a full Lebanese menu, the Darwiche family hopes to give their guests a true Lebanese experience. “We want to bring the best of Lebanon here,” Darwiche said. And old-school hospitality is as integral to this experience as hand-crafted, authentic dishes. “If you go to someone’s house in Lebanon,” Darwiche said, “they will bring out their best food. No matter how poor, they will feed you, offer you a place to stay. They will give you everything they have.”

Planet Jackson Hole sat down with Chef Rouche over Turkish coffee to discuss his personal take on home-style Lebanese food. But we also wanted to learn about the “hummus wars” of the Middle East, what it’s like to move from Detroit to a small town, and whether or not we should be peeling our chickpeas.

PJH: Hummus is all the rage now in the United States, but unfortunately many know it as another convenience food. At Figs there are eight types of hummus made from scratch. Do you have a favorite?

Rouche: Hummus with ginger. And hummus spicy, made with Aleppo pepper.

PJH: Lebanon is thought to have instigated the “hummus wars,” the dispute over which Middle Eastern country can claim it as their national dish. Do you think we should be arguing about hummus’ origin, or just enjoy it?

Rouche: I think food has no nationality. Food is about the love you put into it. It’s about how happy you will be when you give someone food and it makes them happy. It’s not political. It’s like everyone says kebabs are Turkish. But Lebanon makes kebabs. Israel makes kebabs. Everyone makes kebabs. I don’t believe you can look at food and say, “this is mine.” Food is for everybody.

PJH: How many chickpeas do you go through on average?

Rouche: Every day we cook six or 10 pounds of chickpeas. We get them dry. You have to put them in the water one night before, then boil. The chickpeas have to be very soft so the hummus will be very creamy. When I drain the chickpeas, I put ice on top to keep them fresh longer. Ice makes it more creamy.

PJH: One thing that doesn’t come to mind when you think Lebanese food is breakfast. How do the Lebanese start their day?

Rouche: We eat foul (pronounced fool)—fava beans with olive oil, fresh garlic and salt. You mash the garlic and add the salt and lemon. Then you mash the fava beans. Come in for breakfast and I will make you foul.

PJH: If you are not eating Lebanese, what do you like to eat?

Rouche: I eat Lebanese all the time, but if I don’t, I eat grilled fish. When I used to live with my grandfather in Lebanon we used to eat everything from the land.

PJH: Has it been hard to adjust to Jackson? Do you miss the big city?

Rouche: No. Jackson Hole is really quiet and I love the life. It’s very safe. The streets are small; everything is small and beautiful. I don’t like big cities. I miss my mom, my family, my brothers. But they know I’m happy.

PJH: What about Lebanon — do you miss your home?

Rouche: When I go back to Lebanon, it has changed — the people, everything has changed. I feel like this is home now. Lebanon is not like it used to be.

Lightning round
PJH: Hummus or baba ganoush?

Rouche: Hummus

PJH: Falafel or kibbeh?

Rouche: Falafel

(PJH: May I interject to say I have never had falafel as crispy, light and flavorful as Chef George’s? He makes them with fava beans.)

PJH: Tabbouleh or fattoush?

Rouche: Tabbouleh

PJH: Chickpeas: To peel or not to peel?

Rouche: Much of the peel goes away when you boil the chickpeas. I think the peel is really important for hummus, it changes the flavor to take away all the peels. God made it for a reason. When you eat the hummus without the skin, you feel different.

PJH: Turkish coffee or craft cocktails?

Rouche: Turkish coffee

About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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