Benno enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and then worked at the Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington, CT for the exacting Chef John Farnsworth. 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. 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. 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). 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.
In 2018 the newly redesigned landmark The Evelyn hotel, located in New York’s vibrant NoMad neighbourhood, became home to the next chapter in Chef Benno’s culinary epoch. He introduced three distinct, yet complementary concepts: Leonelli Taberna, a casual Roman-inspired trattoria; Leonelli Focacceria e Pasticceria, a bakery and café inspired by the great bakeries of Rome and New York’s rich history of Italian-American pastry shops; and his first eponymous project, Benno, a fine dining restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine, which received 3 stars from The New York Times.
Accolades from notable publications including Esquire, GQ, and the New York Times.