Longtime Chicago chef Jimmy Bannos has watched plenty of his employees move through the ranks of his decades-old Cajun eatery, Heaven on Seven, into places all their own. But a series of “Family Tree” dinners is welcoming some of them back to their roots. In the case of his first guest chef, Cleetus Friedman, the focus is on heating things up, literally.
Formerly of North Center’s Fountainhead and now the Executive Chef of Caffe Baci’s four locations, Friedman opened City Provisions, a hyperlocal deli and catering company, in 2008. Before then, he worked as a server at the original Heaven on Seven and then as Catering Manager.
“I remember before I met Jimmy [Bannos], someone told me, ‘He lights up a room when he walks in,’ and that is the truth,” says Friedman. Next Wednesday’s six-course “Hot As a Mutha” dinner brings the pair back together “after years of keeping in touch and checking in on progress and new projects,” says Bannos, whose son, James Beard Award winner Jimmy Jr., still holds court as Executive Chef of The Purple Pig.
The dishes pit jalapeño Chihuahua cheese with red scorpion pork (now the second hottest pepper on record), a steak sope tinged with ghost pepper (the previously hottest pepper), and “pissed off” shrimp – meaning, in the Jimmy and Cleetus kitchen, rubbed with Sichuan peppers and the Carolina Reaper, which currently ranks number one on the Scoville Heat Unit scale at a whopping 1.5 million.
Each chef created three courses for this incarnation of Family Tree, inspired by each other’s work ethic. “[The collaborations] come from both people just having a desire to work together again,” says Bannos. “Success is really about constant drive. After all this time, it is very much about doing different things — keep learning, keep creating.”
The dinner wraps up with Bannos’s take on Nashville hot chicken and Friedman’s spin on ice cream pie – a cherry chocolate gelato spiked with ancho peppers.
Though dubious guests can opt for the “NOT as Hot as a Mutha” menu with subdued Scoville readings, Friedman fondly recalls spice-stricken menus of the early 2000s as striking an approachable harmony. “While, by the end of the day, my body was on fire, it was always a challenge to come up with brutally spicy dishes and have them still be balanced,” says Friedman.
Tickets are still available for the seated dinner, with drinks available for purchase separately (cash only).
Hot as a Mutha/Family Tree Dinner
June 22, 7 p.m.
The Original Heaven on Seven on Wabash
111. N. Wabash, 7th Floor; (312) 263-6443
Tickets: $60 per person (cash bar)