After cooking for 25 years, Chef Jackson Rouse has arrived. The praise and acclaim that rush up to him these days could well sweep any chef off their feet but not Rouse. His feet are firmly planted on the ground—rooted, you might say.
“I want to bring a voice to the heritage here,” says Rouse, referring to Cincinnati’s German roots. In so doing, Rouse, who was raised in a German-American household, is also on a journey of his own. “I’ve done every kind of cuisine but I haven’t done anything that’s my own,” he adds. “This is me reflecting on my own roots.
Rouse has cured, fermented, pickled and cooked locally sourced bounties to a spot in Cincinnati Magazines’ Top Ten Restaurants 2019. At Bauer European Farm Kitchen, Rouse is a masterful whisperer of cuisines—German, French and even Eastern European—creating his own balanced, rustic cuisine with a German soul.
It’s a soul that harkens back to his great grandmother who emigrated from Germany. “When she came to this country, she was given a cookbook that taught new immigrants the new way to cook…these are now the ingredients you can get in America,” Rouse explains.
Rouse grew up in Burlington, Kentucky, in a rural farming community where he spent much of his childhood hunting, fishing and foraging. Rouse also worked in his family’s grocery store—stocked with many locally prepared foods—fostering his affinity for locally grown food and how he now cooks at Bauer.
There’s little doubt about his parents’ German lineage, but as for his own, he’s not sure.
“Here’s the thing…I’m adopted. I don’t really know where I came from,” Rouse reveals. “But with my mom’s maiden name being ‘Flick’ and my father’s being ‘Rouse,’ that’s very, very German.”
Rouse says he was adopted through a Catholic social service and aside from “three paragraphs” worth of paper work about the agency, he’s pretty much in the dark. This is where his personal journey gets interesting.
“Judging by my physique, I’m going to go with somewhere in Eastern Europe,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m just going to roll the dice and think I’m playing the right card there.”
You could say Rouse made a choice about his own roots. He’s adopted his German heritage—from his parents and the city of Cincinnati.
“I need to understand who I am as a cook and chef,” says Rouse. “That really came to light when I had my own family, my own kids.” Rouse has a seven-year-old, four-year-old and six-month-old.
“If I’m going to cook, it has to come from something more than what’s trending,” he adds. “Why not make what you cook a trend…put your neck out, you know, push it a little bit.”
Rouse is certainly no stranger to testing the boundaries of cuisine and, not surprisingly, he initially encountered strong headwind to his expression of German cuisine at Bauer.
“I would have people who wouldn’t even come in here because the spelling (on the menu) wasn’t the way they thought it should be,” Rouse recounts. “That’s the thing about pushing food farther. You get that resistance… but it makes you work harder.”
But Rouse knew he had something which fueled his determination to tell his story—in food. “If I put down really good roots with this, I can do the same thing with my family,” he says. “I want my kids to be able to say, ‘Dad really came up with something, persevered, and good things happened.’”
Rouse has brought Cincinnati’s German heritage to the modern-day table and, in the process, come full circle on his personal journey. This baron of cuisine is far from writing the last chapter but, in embracing his roots, Rouse is home.