Inside the kitchen of Julian Bentivegna, the chef and owner of Ten
Stocked with Deep’n Delicious cakes, three bottles of maple syrup and his grandmother’s pasta maker
In 2018, Julian Bentivegna gathered every cent he could spare ($60,000 plus a $200,000 loan) and started renovating the Brockton Village storefront that would become Ten. Meanwhile, the then-24-year-old was staying afloat by selling tickets to self-run pop-up dinners on Eventbrite and delivering for DoorDash. It was a gamble, but in March 2019, his plant-forward tasting menu was met with rave reviews. The message was clear: it would be wise to try Bentivegna’s food now, before his star rose even further. And after two consecutive inclusions in the Michelin Guide, it’s already a challenge to score one of the spot’s 10 seats.
Bentivegna’s zeal for plant-based cuisine took root almost a decade ago, but it was the financial constraints of becoming a young chef/owner/operator that brought its benefits into focus. “I was so broke I couldn’t afford meat,” he says. While many see produce as a plate’s supporting character, Bentivegna argues that it’s worthy of a leading role. “When treated with care and attention, vegetables can be just as delicious as anything, especially when the produce is as amazing as it is in Ontario. The peaches, nuts, radishes, tomatoes—it’s seriously inspiring.”
While forced frugality no longer dictates Bentivegna’s diet, his penchant for plants remains. He’s fallen in love with the many Golden Horseshoe microclimate growers (Little Wolf, Cookstown Greens, Shogun Maitake, Sheldon Creek Dairy, Ohme Farms). And he’s adopted a climate anxiety–informed personal philosophy. In a world with water shortages and rising temperatures, he advocates for a “lessatarian” lifestyle. Don’t mistake it for a steak snub, though—he still enjoys a good rib-eye, just less often than he used to.
Before meeting his girlfriend, Brenna Gray, Bentivegna subsisted on a diet of A&W poutines, pizza, Deep’n Delicious cake and 7-Eleven taquitos. “I eat much more healthily now,” he says. It helps that he’s changed Ten’s hours—they’re now open Wednesday through Saturday, giving him a real weekend for the first time in a long time. On those days off, he and Gray will usually hit up Larry’s Folly for coffee and crosswords or Skyline for brunch. Then they’ll grab coffee from Cherry Bomb and peruse the grocers in Parkdale and Roncesvalles for dinner inspiration (right now, Bentivegna is all about rutabagas). If they feel like eating out, they might hit Alma, Actinolite (a significant source of inspiration for Ten), Himalayan Kitchen or Peaches Sports Bar.
Other than some leftover pepperoni pizza from Cici’s, the couple’s fridge isn’t haunted by too many ghosts of Bentivegna’s fast-food past. These days, he’s fuelled by grain bowls, salads and one-pot meals (pastas, quinoa bowls, eggplant-tofu scrambles). He’s also stocking Ontario rhubarb juice (which he uses instead of lemon in vinaigrettes), homemade pickles, momos from Loga’s Corner, ajvar (a Balkan pepper spread), three bottles of maple syrup (including one from Kinsip that was aged in a whiskey barrel) and heaps of cruciferous vegetables (’tis the season for cabbage and Brussels sprouts).
The fridge magnets are from vacations the couple have taken together. Currently, they’re planning a west coast road trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
The freezer is a bit less healthful than the veggie-packed fridge. It’s filled with Deep’n Delicious cakes (these days, Bentivegna limits himself to one per week), Drumsticks (only the classic vanilla caramel will do), dumplings from PAT, bagels, hash browns and ćevapi.
In true space-squeezed Toronto fashion, one cupboard in their Parkdale apartment does double duty as both a dry-goods pantry and a bar. Bentivegna is big into negronis, and Gray recently travelled to Croatia, so the couple have been enjoying Pelinkovac tonics. “Pelinkovac is a herbal liqueur that kind of tastes like Jägermeister, if Jager weren’t disgusting,” says Bentivegna.
Bentivegna describes this cupboard as “too much pasta for any household.”
Even though Bentivegna has worked at Michelin-starred establishments, like Chicago’s three-starred Grace, he still cites his mom among his most influential cooking teachers. She’s Sicilian, and to this day, she always sends her son good tomato paste for his birthday. He came by his pasta obsession honestly: this pasta maker belonged to Bentivegna’s grandmother. For other gadgets, Bentivegna’s preference skews practical. “I’m not a big spoon or knife guy,” he says. His favourites are a pair of Joyce Chen scissors (great for herbs and small fish), a sauce whisk (it consistently delivers perfect scrambled eggs) and a knife he’s had since he was 19 (it’s been sharpened so much that it’s an inch and a half shorter now than when he got it).
As for cookbooks, Dan Barber’s The Third Plate and Jeremy Fox’s On Vegetables helped shape Ten’s plant-forward tasting concept. Given the restaurant’s ever-changing seasonal menu, Bentivegna is constantly exploring new ingredients and unexpected flavour combinations, and Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus has proven particularly useful, as has delving into the details of less-loved herbs such as lovage, which Jerry Traunfeld writes about in detail in The Herbal Kitchen.
The bread beside the cookbooks was made with Brodflour’s red fife flour and the eight-year-old sourdough starter that’s currently sitting in the fridge. Many bakers name their sourdough starter (since it’s kind of like a pet you need to feed daily), but Bentivegna purposefully kept this batch unchristened. “I used to give my starters names, but after many failed attempts, I became superstitious,” he says. The chef had a six-long strikeout streak, obliterating batches with cutesy names like Molly and Yeasty, before he was blessed with this unflappable—and forever unnamed—starter.
All of these wines have appeared on the menu at Ten over the past year. Bentivegna prefers white to red and relies on his sommelier, Rebecca Pettigrew, to help him find interesting (but not too funky) food-friendly bottles.