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Q&A: Levi Bent-Lee, the man behind Bent and the son of super-chef Susur Lee

Levi Bent-Lee is opening his first restaurant, Bent, at Dundas and Bathurst. His dad will run the kitchen. Things could get complicated

Levi Bent-Lee

(Image: Mark Peckmezian)

You’re 22. What qualifies you to open a restaurant?
I essentially grew up in a restaurant, and my father has taught me so much. I’ve travelled to Japan, Bali, Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau and Singapore, and all over Europe and the U.S. I’ve eaten some crazy stuff: turtle, pig snout, fish sperm. That one was gross. You eat it with soy sauce.

I assume it won’t be on the menu at your restaurant. What will be?
There will be a raw bar in the front for ceviche and Japanese crudo, and a hot kitchen in the back. I’ll run operations, my younger brother Kai will run the bar, and my dad will run the kitchen.

Your dad is famously untamable. If he’s late for work, will you give him hell?
My dad is late all the time, but somehow, he always has a good excuse for it. Even if he’s just been sleeping, it’s because he works so friggin’ hard and deserves that sleep.

Recently, he has had a string of coolly received efforts, most notably Shang in New York, which was widely panned and closed last year. Do you and Kai feel added pressure, given that context?
There’s always pressure when you open a restaurant. But I don’t fear that if we mess it up it’s going to ruin my dad’s name.

What do you and your dad argue about?
My dad’s so weird. He’s a perfectionist. Sometimes I think he wakes up and decides to be a prick. He’ll nitpick at everything, and there’s nothing you can do. You just say, “I’ll take care of it.”

You’ve said that your dad is your best friend, despite your scuffles, and you named the restaurant after your mom, Brenda Bent. Why aren’t you like normal families, who kinda hate each other?
I never gave my parents anything to be angry about. The exception was when I took a year off after high school and didn’t have a job. I remember being about five hours into a Guitar Hero session, and my dad woke up in one of those moods and said, “Son, it’s time to find a job.” I ignored him. Then, without a word, he grabbed the guitar, and wham! smashed it right through the TV. I thought, “Maybe it’s time to get a job.”

Do you still live with your parents?
No. Kai and I live in a loft at Bloor and Dovercourt, but I’m moving out. We both have girlfriends, so it can be awkward.

Is your girlfriend as into food as you are?
She definitely eats as much as I do. On our second date, at School in Liberty Village, she ordered a giant barbecue chicken club and took a monster bite. Some bits were hanging out of her mouth, so she shoved them in with her fingers. I was like, “This is my kind of girl.”

As kids, did you and Kai bring exotic lunches to school?
Never. Our dad was always too busy, so our mom made the lunches. We’d get two slices of rye with ham, a slice of cheese, no mayo, no butter, a Cheestring and a yogurt tube. My mom’s a great cook, but when it came to lunches she was like, “Whatever.”

Does your dad like her cooking?
He does, but sometimes he’s not in the mood for it. He’ll never say so—he’ll just get up and start making his own thing. My mom gets so pissed. You have no idea.

You were a national-level tennis star. What was your highest ranking?
Number one in Ontario in my under-18 year. But I was such a baby, always breaking my racquet. I played Milos Raonic a few times but never beat him.

Are you a better general manager than you are a tennis player?
Totally. But tennis taught me a lot. I wasted so much talent. My dad always says, “By the time you’re 40, you want to be comfortable, so make as much money as you can now. Enjoy life when you’re older.” That’s what I’m going to do.

  • E P

    I thought this interview showed Levi Bent-Lee to be obnoxious,discrespectful of his father and mother and in general not someone worthy of an interview.
    Toronto life – you can do much better than this!

  • gt

    just another rich spoiled kid riding on the coat tails of his father. another restaurant in Toronto… how original.

  • designergirl

    I thought that the interview was telling of an ambitious 22yr old with drive. Twenty somethings today are not like the Gen Xers…I teach them and believe me, they are a whole other generation. Full on and direct is the descriptor.
    Think about his bkgd- both parents highly successful, highly ambitious and career motivated.
    If you think that the creme de la creme has no ego…guess again. The ego keeps the drive going and the ambition to go forward.
    What was disrespectful? We are all human and have traits that are not sugar coated…Levi is just being brutally honest…that is why he will learn from trials and errors…and perhaps a “tad” from Mom and Dad.
    Thanks for a refreshing interview!

  • Alex

    “Some bits were hanging out of her mouth, so she shoved them in with her fingers.” I realize that he was trying to be endearing but I suspect his girlfriend won’t be too enthusiastic about that story being published.

    Excited about the resto though, thanks for the profile.

  • dj

    who cares? this kid is getting bankrolled by his rich father and has done nothing to deserve any attention. Let’s praise him for what he’s accomplished, not what daddy has

  • Ingrid

    Love this profile. What a cutie-pie!

  • Rivvi Kahn

    Why air the family’s dirty laundry when you hope to make it as a restaurateur.
    Grace, dignity and self respect will serve this young man well despite the difficult occasions growing up.
    Do we care what went on in the family ?
    Do we even want to know ?
    Grow up young man, you will need way more respect than exhibited in this interview, you will have employees and the public to deal with.
    Good Luck

  • BG011

    If the restaurant fails they can always do a quick reno and open up a swingers club called “Bent Over” :P

  • hmm

    Look at all the haters.. jealous much?

    Cannot wait to try the resto and congrats to the Bent-Lee family!

  • melissa

    It’s obvious the boy is arrogant by his responses – and I bet it was heavily edited to undo the dumbness Levi bestowed. Hats off to the interviewer who had to endure this exchange.

  • lynn

    It seems some people want to put down anyone who has connections or financial backing to their advantage. Is this envy, jealousy or resentment? What parents don’t help out their kids? Levi is showing ambition and will have to put in hard work and make good decisions with some direction from his mentors to succeed. Good luck to the family. The restaurant business is a difficult one. Even Susur himself closed one in Toronto and one in NY.

  • Nikoa

    I have worked for Levi and Kai and they are disrespectful, unprofessional and hostile. They keep a HIGH percentage of staff tips and pay bare minimum wage. Many servers have left crying and nightly many express a desire to work elsewhere. These boys need to grow up and develop some people skills before they ride a cliche gravy train on their father’s money.

  • Emily

    I think its a great article. hes so cute and his girlfriend is very skinny so the story is quite funny.

  • whoa ego

    Not shocked that Levi’s ego shone through what could have been a decent promo piece for the new resto. He’s always ridden on the name and money. Too bad he will never learn his own way in this world. Arrogant rich kid is his title: always has been and always will be.

  • Toron_Ron

    I have worked for Susur and he is a perfectionist and also one of the hardest working men I have ever met in my life. His boys were always around the restaurant and were always very courteous and respectful. Susur is a great man, great father and a great businessman – his kids are lucky to have a built-in mentor in him to boot.

    Lay off the negativity and until you work 18 hours a day, don’t judge the Susurian Race.