“Humility, passion, fortitude, and creativity—tempered with a business sense. There are certainly others, but these are the ones that will sustain you.” – Jonathan Benno, on the qualities that make a great chef
Considered one of the top chefs in the country, Jonathan Benno has spent over three decades honing his craft in some of the world’s finest restaurants, counting John Farnsworth, Michael Mina, Daniel Boulud, Tom Colicchio, and Thomas Keller among his culinary mentors. Most recently, Benno spent six years at the helm of Lincoln Center’s Lincoln Ristorante, where he gained critical acclaim for his contemporary Italian Cuisine.
Growing up surrounded by farms in rural Connecticut, Benno developed a strong appreciation for food and agriculture from an early age. “My grandmother was the primary cook in the family. She was of Italian descent and taught me respect for ingredients—that they taste best when you pick them yourself. I vividly remember her eggplant parmigiana, especially in the summer when she used eggplant from our garden.”
After high school, Benno enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where he completed an externship at the famed Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. He then worked at the Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington, CT for the exacting Chef John Farnsworth. “My dad was a carpenter and like a young apprentice looks up to a master, John was a tremendous teacher. He encouraged me to work for great chefs and gave me the push to get out the door,” he recalls.
Upon graduating in 1993, Benno relocated to the Bay Area where he worked under Chef Michael Mina at Aqua, and later moved to Napa Valley to join Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Chef Keller became an important influence in Benno’s life, helping to shape his philosophy about food and dining, and instilling in him the drive to settle for nothing less than excellence.
Benno then returned home to the East Coast where he gained experience at legendary Chef Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant Daniel in Manhattan; followed by a stretch at the three Michelin-starred Auberge du Vieux Puits in the South of France; and then back to New York as poissonier at Les Celebrites at the Essex House under Chef Christian Delouvrier. Benno then spent two years with Chef Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, one of which was devoted entirely to pastry. From there, he helped open Craft with Marco Canora. Finally, when Chef Keller was preparing to open his East Coast flagship, Per Se, he recruited his former protégé to serve as Chef de Cuisine.
Benno spent six years at Per Se (2004-2009), overseeing all aspects of the kitchen, and working with Chef Keller to cultivate his distinctive brand of American cuisine and service. Under Benno, Per Se received top marks from the New York Times and three Michelin stars. During this time, Benno was named a StarChefs “Rising Star” (2005), and “Best New Chef” from Food & Wine magazine (2006).
In 2010 when he felt it was time to move on from Per Se, Benno knew he needed to do something completely different if he was going to stay in New York; Italian cuisine was a natural choice. “Since I was a kid I’ve always had a love affair with Italian food, and have traveled to Italy many times over the years.”
Benno went on to open Lincoln Ristorante at New York’s iconic Lincoln Center, where he spent six years as Executive Chef. During this time, he gained acclaim for his contemporary Italian cuisine, including earning a Michelin star, and receiving accolades from notable publications including Esquire, GQ, and the New York Times.
The newly redesigned landmark the Evelyn Hotel, located in New York’s vibrant NoMad neighborhood, is home to the next chapter in Chef Benno’s culinary epoch. Of his three new projects Benno says, “There aren’t many spaces in NYC that would lend themselves to what we’re doing in one location, with the bakery [Leonelli Focacceria] in the front of the hotel, casual Italian [Leonelli Taberna] through the lobby, and a fine-dining restaurant in back [Benno]. It affords me the opportunity to take everything I’ve done throughout my career and showcase it all in one place.”
Chef Benno is supported by his wife Elizabeth who works as the Operations Manager for Leonelli and Benno. They live in Westchester County with their two daughters, Lucy and Tessa.