If you ever ordered a gumbo at the Louisiana-style Heaven on Seven in Chicago’s Loop during the late 1980s, you may remember having your table bussed by a 5-year-old version of the chef. A fourth-generation restaurateur, 2011 Chicago Rising Star Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. was practically swaddled in dinner napkins at his father’s restaurant, and raised on restaurant and cooking lore. His passion for people and food was clear from a young age, and when the fork in the professional road arrived, Bannos chose culinary school.
He went to Johnson & Wales University, and while there interned at Emeril's in New Orleans. Upon graduation, Bannos helped Gabriel Viti open Miramar Bistro in Highwood, Illinois. He also teamed up with Scott Harris for the opening of Mia Francesca in Chicago. As his palate inclined further toward the flavors of the Mediterranean, Bannos—Chicago’s reverse version of Marco Polo—plotted a course for the Old World. He embarked on an excursion to Italy to immerse himself in the culture and cuisine, working at two restaurants near Rome and two more in Florence. Once back on U.S. shores, Bannos made the move to New York City, spending the next three and a half years working under Mario Batali at Del Posto, Lupa Osteria Romana, and Esca.
Bannos’ passions—food, family, and the restaurant business—eventually brought him home to Chicago and his first independent venture. This chef-partner describes his restaurant, The Purple Pig in Chicago's Gold Coast, as “a Mecca to food, swine, and wine.” Here he puts out rustic, vibrant dishes that showcase a tendency toward the simplicity and purity of Mediterranean ingredients.