If Atlanta had its own superhero, it would have to be Souper Jenny! Atlanta native Jenny Levison has been filling our bellies with delicious, homemade recipes since her first flagship café opened in Buckhead years ago. But this soup aficionado didn’t start out in the kitchen — she grew up in Los Angeles and eventually studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University. Her time as a struggling actress was short-lived when she explored her other passion: food. Get a taste of what our newest FACE Jenny Levison is cooking, since food is a language we all speak.
You are an Atlanta native but grew up in Los Angeles. How would you compare the two cities?
Wow. They are REALLY different. Atlanta has my heart and is my hometown, but I feel like I grew up in Los Angeles, and it’s where I first was introduced to fresh food and the restaurant business.
Souper Jenny and Juicy Jenny, a part of Planet Jenny, have taken over this city. What do you attest your brand’s popularity to?
This question’s easy for two reasons … I love what I do. Literally. I love the service industry, and I love to eat. Also, I’m a stickler for good staffing, and I have an incredible team. I’m just the face of the Planet these days — my staff of 48 is the backbone of my vision.
We pretty much love every soup, salad, sandwich and miscellaneous food item you serve at your restaurants. What is your favorite one? And what is one dish you concocted that just didn’t resonate with customers?
Hands down, My Dad’s Turkey Chili is my favorite and most popular dish. I am a big fan of beet borscht, but it’s not so popular with my guests!
When coming up with new recipes what inspires you? What is your creative process when brainstorming a new menu item?
I now work with my executive chef, Jessica, and we both get ideas from traveling, reading every food magazine and cookbook available, and generally playing in the kitchen with fresh product!
You are a trained actor who became a food icon in Atlanta. Do you ever put your acting chops to work when it comes to dealing with the public (like perhaps food critics)?
Ha! I haven’t had to deal with any nasty food critics, but we do have the occasional grumpy customer. The acting comes in handy.
Besides Planet Jenny, where’s your favorite place to grab a bite in the city?
How has the food landscape changed over the years since you opened the first Souper Jenny in Buckhead? Where do you think the landscape is headed in the future?
The food landscape here is constantly changing, and Atlanta has become a booming restaurant city. I hope that we continue to support the local chef-driven restaurants — that is what interests me.
For some of us “bad cooks,” how do you recommend us approaching the kitchen to create a (mildly) successful dish?
I would pick the simplest cookbook you can find or take a cooking class where you will actually cook what they teach you. If you stick to simple, whole foods, it’s easy!
Besides the chain grocery stores, where in Atlanta do you like to go to get your fresh ingredients?
Kids are notoriously picky eaters. What’s it like cooking for your most important customer, your son Jonah? Does he ever offer his critiques of potential menu additions?
OMG! My kid is the worst eater on the planet! If I can win him over, that will be a lifetime accomplishment. Jonah will eat very simple proteins, grains and vegetables, but he doesn’t like any spice or interesting flavors. It drives me nuts!
If you weren’t creating delicious meals and writing helpful cookbooks, what would you be doing?
Sitting on a beach reading a book or traveling the world
What’s your favorite piece of advice?
Hmmm. Maya Angelou … “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding family, friends and faith?
Red wine, a bathtub and Lebanese food!
A huge thank you to Jenny Levison for taking the time out of her busy schedule to share her story with our readers (and to her staff for sharing such delicious bowls of “research”).
And, as always, thank you to CatMax Photography for the fabulous imagery!