Interview with Chef Julian Bentivegna
For Chef Julian Bentivegna, Vegetables Aren’t Just a Side Dish
Words— Kate Dingwall
Ten is the magic number for Chef Julian Bentivegna. It is how many years he has been in the industry - moving from Momofuku to Alo to the Michelin-starred Grace in Chicago. Ten is the number of diners he will serve ten courses to each night in his new restaurant concept named, well, Ten.
Coming into his first solo project, Bentivegna isn't opting for a larger space to feed everyone he can. He's keeping everything tight. Serving just ten diners every sitting, each move is calculated and conscious, showing wisdom far beyond his 25 years.
The menu pivots frequently to highlight micro-seasonality, but on each iteration, Bentivegna lens heavily on vegetables, specifically, local ones. One of his stand-out dishes to date was a precisely-layered cucumber and apples, dotted with crispy toasted buckwheat. Another, braised acorn squash was finished with swirling tendrils of pickled butternut squash. Chocolate is made in 3D-printed molds (courtesy, his partner, an architect), as are perfectly spherical brioche.
While the tasting menu is an exercise in veggie-inspired conceptualism, the front of the restaurant is far more unbuttoned. The lounge space has a full menu of wine (many with a natural or biodynamic lean) and snacks (like sourdough brioche with carrot butter and onion jam, or nettle grilled cheese).
Below, we spoke with Bentivegna about his whimsical, romp-around-the-garden dishes and what the future of ten holds.
How did ten come to be?
The concept for ten started to form about a couple of years ago. It came about as a compilation of everything I liked from the places I had worked at or was working for. One major thing I noticed at these places was that on nights where we did 20 guests vs. 60 guests, the guests who dined on the slower night got a much better experience, in my opinion. The staff wasn't as stressed, so they took their time with each guest; each plate had more attention to detail and care put into it.
By the time I was 24, I was putting on a couple of pop-ups a month and started seeing that my food/concept was resonating with people. So I decided it was time to open up a permanent spot.
I knew I always wanted my first place to be tiny and manageable, and so I refined the concept to work around ten seats and ten courses. I started cooking when I was 15, so I've now been cooking for ten years!
How would you describe the concept?
Ten is all about the size. The whole restaurant is a chef counter centered around the open kitchen. We stagger reservations, taking two to four people every half hour with a maximum of ten guests seated at any given time.
In concept, we offer blind multi-course vegetable-forward tasting menu's capitalizing on whatever is in season. Our chefs cook, plate, serve and explain all of the food to the guests, and the Sommelier handles all the beverage service.
How does your menu unfold over the courses?
Our ten-course tasting menu starts with usually three courses of dishes centred around vegetables. Then, a course that generally has a seafood component - right now, it's scallops!
Course five is always our bread course, which is followed by a course that includes meat - duck at the moment. Finally, we always finish our savoury courses with an Ontario Mushroom.
We have three dessert courses, first is a palate cleanser, next is a sweet dessert and last up is a dish that walks the line of sweet/savoury (currently, a sunflower tart). While we do have meat and seafood on our menu, we always develop those courses as ones where the vegetables on the plate are just as important as the protein.
Why is it exciting to work with Canadian terroir?
It's exciting because of how good it is! Southern Ontario grows some of the best produce in the world. And, you have both coasts to choose where you could find anything from sea salt to mushrooms to scallops to miners lettuce.
Working with such a seasonal approach to the menu - in a country where we probably have eight months of winter - really challenges your creativity and adaptability. That's what makes cooking so much fun!
How do you pivot your menu to seasonality/availability?
We don't change our menu entirely on one specific day; it's much more organic than that. We are always at the mercy of what we can find at the markets, so usually, we have two or three menu items that change slightly or entirely every couple of weeks. This means that if you come back to ten every four months, you will be eating a whole new menu each time.
What are some of your favourite dishes you've created over your restaurant's life?
My favourites so far:
- Green Peas and White Chocolate
- Cherries, Hyssop and Barnacle Bacon
- Tomatoes, Nettle and Dehydrated Melons
- Maitake Mushroom, Cashew, Rapini and Buckwheat
- Bay scallops cooked in the shell, bull kelp, sesame and new potatoes cooked in whey.
- Peanut Butter and Jam Ice Cream Sandwich
- Sunflower Tart
What does the future look like for you?
My only goal at this point is to keep improving ten over the next five or so years. I still want to travel a bit more. One day open up the next restaurant on a farm in the country somewhere.