Executive Chef Jessica Hanners is Jenny Levison’s go-to gal.
Just as Batman has Robin, Souper Jenny has Jessica Hanners. The super chef has been working for Jenny Levison, founder of Buckhead’s Souper Jenny, Juicy Jenny and Cafe Jonah and the Magical Attic since 2006, minus the two years she spent honing her craft at Johnson & Wales University.
An Alabama-born Decatur resident, she serves as executive chef of the Planet Jenny restaurants, as they are called, designing daily menus and creating soups, sandwiches and salads for the six locations. “I’m a lifer,” she says.
What are your main responsibilities?
I make a daily master menu for the Buckhead and Brookhaven Souper Jenny locations—our busiest ones. I have chefs who run each location for us. The challenge is the restaurants use different amounts of ingredients so they take my creative direction and carry [out] the vision based on what they have in stock.
How do you get recipe ideas?
I’m obsessed with Pinterest. I read every food publication that comes out, follow people’s blogs, walk through the Dekalb Farmers Market and look at different restaurant menus to see what’s going on. A lot of times I’ll be inspired by random things. We have a salad with apples, sliced pecans, kale and maple-ginger vinaigrette that was inspired by a drink I had at JCT. Kitchen.
What’s your favorite Planet Jenny meal?
We make the best chicken pozole soup topped with shaved radishes, lime and lettuce. I like our sweet and spicy roasted sweet potato wedges. At Cafe Jonah, I’d get organic grilled chicken salad over greens with lemon dressing. I think that’s the perfect lunch.
How do you preserve the separate identities of the Planet Jenny restaurants while maintaining consistency across the brand?
The vision and the standard are always the same—to offer [food that’s] healthy, locally sourced, and organic when we can, and then be creative and forward thinking. We focus so much on clean eating.
What’s the weirdest thing a customer has ever asked?
We’ve been making bone broth (a soup made from bone and water that is rich in vitamins and minerals). It’s trending in New York and L.A. It’s like a super food— it’s very healing. A customer asked if the chicken was organic and what the chickens were fed. I said, ‘Organic grains,’ and she said, ‘They’re not grass-fed chickens?’ I said, ‘Chickens don’t eat grass,’ and she was like, ‘Why not?’
What do you do for fun?
I like to go to all the neighborhood festivals and food festivals and go out to eat. My life is definitely food—I am completely immersed in food. I’m a big fan of The Wrecking Bar, Kimball House and Umi. I love everything Ford Fry has done, [including] St. Cecilia and King + Duke.
STORY: Carly Cooper
PHOTO: Sara Hanna
Foodie Tastemaker Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Contributing Editor at Atlanta Magazine. Restaurant Aficionado and Mother of Two.