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Purple Pig Chef Dubbed One of the Nation's 'Greatest New Cooks'

By Janet Rausa Fuller | December 5, 2012 2:27pm | Updated on December 5, 2012 3:37pm
 Jimmy Bannos Jr. is one of 12 chefs and the only Chicago chef featured by Food & Wine magazine in their new book, "America's Greatest New Cooks."
Jimmy Bannos Jr. is one of 12 chefs and the only Chicago chef featured by Food & Wine magazine in their new book, "America's Greatest New Cooks."
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The Purple Pig

CHICAGO — Jimmy Bannos Jr. has made it into the pages of Food & Wine magazine before, but now the resume-boosting publication has bestowed the lofty title of one of the nation's greatest new cooks on the 28-year-old.

Bannos is one of 12 chefs and the only Chicago one to make it into the new book, "Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks: Spectacular Recipes with Fresh Ideas from Tomorrow's Stars."

The 255-page hardcover book (not in stores until February but for sale on the Food & Wine website) profiles Bannos and his bustling Michigan Avenue restaurant, the Purple Pig, and features 10 of his recipes.

Bannos said when a Food & Wine editor called to tell him about the book, "I thought it was a prank call at first."

"This book for me is definitely a life-changer," he said Tuesday.

In the foreword, editor-in-chief Dana Cowin writes that eating at the Purple Pig was "game-changing" for her, and she plugs his insanely popular dish of crispy pig's ears with kale, pickled peppers and a fried egg.

Others featured in the book include former Alinea pastry chef Alex Stupak, now of Empellon in New York, Justin Smillie of New York's Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria and San Francisco pastry chef Belinda Leong. Bannos met some of them in New York last week at a event to promote the book. "There's some serious, serious talent, and it was really awesome to meet them," he said.

Bannos is hardly "new" to the business. He is the son of Jimmy Bannos, one of Chicago's culinary godfathers and owner of the Heaven on Seven mini-empire. As a mere toddler, "I was putting coleslaw and pickles on dishes" at his dad's restaurant, Bannos said.

He's worked for Emeril Lagasse and spent nearly four years cooking in Mario Batali's restaurants in New York before moving back home to open the Purple Pig on Dec. 29, 2009, with his dad, Spiaggia chef Tony Mantuano and restaurateur Scott Harris.

Bannos has another restaurant in him — "Everybody's always throwing out ideas. Pasta would definitely be on the menu... that's the dream," he said — but said it's not yet time.

"I can't put my energy right now into a whole other concept, because everything would go into making that great," he said. "This is a constantly evolving restaurant. You don't want to mess up what you've worked so hard to make great."

Right now, he's just waiting on a shipment of the Food & Wine books to sell at the restaurant. And he's cooking, always cooking.

"I'm still here frickin' six days a week," he laughed.