A fleeting taste of Lebanon comes to Jackson Hole.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – This past weekend local architect Nona Yehia stepped out of her home kitchen to deliver an extravagant Lebanese spread at Lemons and Parsley, a pop-up Beirut bistro held at Persephone. Patrons left Persephone’s luminous outdoor deck hungry for only one thing: a way to duplicate the experience. “For Nona to pull off all those dishes for 40 people was really impressive,” said Cara Rank, editor of Dishing Magazine. “My husband and I left saying she should open her own restaurant… or at least do more pop-up dinners.”
Fueling the anticipation of both dinners, which, after their announcement sold out in a few days, is the absence of a Mediterranean eatery here, a hapless void in the local dining sphere. But it is Yehia’s intuitive culinary sense and passion for delicious food that seemed to garner even greater buzz.
Yehia, the architect behind Persephone’s chic aesthetic, had been talking with co-owners Kevin and Ali Cohane about the prospect of a pop-up since the café’s inception. A recent blog post on Persephone’s website explains, “Lemons and Parsley began with a seed of inspiration sowed at the table of our friend, Jackson-based architect Nona Yehia. We’ve attended her bountiful dinner parties with appetites and adoration for her Lebanese cuisine. So when we commissioned her to design our café, our conversations would often stray to the events we would stage in the space we envisioned together.”
A desire to sate her own cravings for the piquant tastes of Lebanon, where her family originated, inspired Yehia over the years to cultivate her skills in the kitchen. “As long as I can remember I have been fascinated by food, especially Lebanese food,” Yehia remembered. “I knew it wouldn’t be as accessible to me here as it was in Michigan or New York, so I decided to try and get serious about creating all of the flavors I crave and that remind me of home.”
Among the menu items, all served family style and in copious amounts, were a variety of mezze – hummus, baba ghanouj (smoked eggplant with tahini), warak enab bi zeit (stuffed vegetarian grape leaves) and halloumi makli (pan-fried halloumi cheese). Some of the main dishes included shish tawook (grilled, spiced chicken over rice), whole stuffed red snapper, spiced lamb grilled in a crispy pita with laban, baked eggplant drizzled with yogurt and pomegranate and… I’ll wait for you to wipe the drool from your chin. French wine varietals and date-infused bourbon cocktails were also on tap along with Turkish coffee and Middle Eastern pastries for dessert.
Responsible for pop-up stores in the past, Yehia is no stranger to the idea, which allows people to imbibe on new merchandise or products for a short amount of time while offering a low-risk environment for new merchandisers to peddle gear. The same can be said for pop-up restaurants, which allow emerging chefs the spotlight and offer diners a novel experience. “What I love about [pop-ups] is that it gives people room to experiment and I think it is in that space that really amazing things can happen,” Yehia said.
But despite the fleeting nature of pop-ups, they are typically laborious to organize and prepare. Yehia explained, “I started making the complicated dishes about a week before to make sure that I had them ready to go for the weekend. The amazing thing about Mediterranean cooking is that the dishes are mostly comprised of fresh herbs and vegetables, so there is a lot of prep, but once it’s done, the recipes come together pretty quickly.” Yehia enlisted the help of local chef Jason Mitchell, Persephone head chef Miguel ‘Fluffy’ Gonzalez and a team of dedicated foodies, too. “I also had people who were curious about the process help: Sam Petri and Abby Filanowski, who help Chef Maho Hakoshima with catering every once in a while were also pivotal in getting it all done and Ali [Cohane] of Persephone was totally critical in planning the event so it went off without a hitch.”
The resounding success of Lemons and Parsley has attendees yearning for part two, or better yet, a permanent Mediterranean eatery with Yehia at the helm. “For years we have been asking ourselves if opening a Lebanese restaurant in Jackson is a good idea,” Yehia said. “I guess this past weekend is a good indication that it just might be.”