We’d wager that Jimmy Bannos Jr. played with spatulas and tongs in his crib: as a fourth-generation chef and restaurateur, the man has known the hospitality-world hustle for his entire life. Below, the chef of Chicago’s Purple Pig and first-time Rising Star Chef of the Year nominee tells us about his favorite dish on his menu, where he’s eating in the Windy City, and the cookbook that set him on his path to success.
JBF: You are a fourth-generation chef. How has your family's approach to cooking and restaurants impacted you the most?
JB: I always look at each generation and realize how their accomplishments grew through the generations that came after. My great grandparents came here from Greece and started a business. My grandfather went on to open a few different spots—and he wasn't even a trained chef. My dad is a trained chef, and he really took everything up another ten levels. The biggest influence that I've gotten from them is the value of hard, hard work. It's the only way. You’ve got to bust your butt every day. It’s also been helpful to see the things my dad has gone though—the good and the bad. I've been in the business my whole life and I was exposed to everything that's happened to him. I'm pretty lucky.
JBF: What's a dish on your menu right now that you're especially excited about or proud of?
JB: My pork tripe dish, which has been on the menu for two to three months. Most tripe dishes you see are made with honeycomb beef tripe, but we're using pork stomach, which, believe it or not, is way cleaner than beef. It takes less work to clean and to get the funk out of it. We braise it with Mangalitsa feet and hocks, beef tendon stock, and pork stock. We then pick off the meat and add it back to pot with ground chicken thigh sausage, wine, tomatoes, smoked paprika, mirepoix, herbs—all of that stews together. For pickup, we add mint, pork skin crumbs, and stewed black-eyed peas. We put a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino on top, then bake the dish so that the cheese gets nice and browned.
JBF: It's probably tough for you to find time to dine out, but where do you like to eat in Chicago these days?
JB: Thinking back on the past six months, I really loved Au Cheval—I had that great burger, the fried chicken, foie gras scrambled eggs, and duck heart gravy. Cafe Spiaggia, owned by Tony Mantuano, who is one of our partners, is always outstanding. Maude's Liquor Bar is another must. They do a really good job. There's a new pizza place by my apartment called Flour and Stone. They’re calling their pizza “Brooklyn-style”. It's pretty undiscovered and it’s awesome.
JBF: What's your dream destination for food travel?
JB: I would love to go all over southern Italy. I've also never been to Spain, so there’s that.
JBF: What are your favorite cookbooks and why?
JB: My dad literally has thousands of cookbooks—that's been really important for me. My favorite book, which has a lot of meaning to me, is Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook. It opened my eyes and made me realize that I had to work for him, which is exactly what I went on to do. These days I like to I look at the notes I wrote in there eight or nine years ago—it's pretty cool. I also love Paula Wolfert's books. They are all really outstanding.
JBF: Finally, what's your earliest food memory?
JB: When I was a little kid, I used to sleep over at my grandparents’ house. In the morning they would cook bacon in the microwave and just blast it. That almost-burning smell would always wake me up. I don't cook my bacon that way now, but I think I could still enjoy it.