In Memoriam: Chef James Kent, a Titan of Downtown’s Dining Scene (1979-2024)

06/17/2024
In Memoriam: Chef James Kent, a Titan of Downtown’s Dining Scene (1979-2024)

James Kent, the visionary chef behind Lower Manhattan standouts Crown Shy, SAGA and Overstory, died on Saturday, June 15, 2024. He was 45.

James grew up in Greenwich Village, and at only 14, he began apprenticing in neighbor and legendary chef David Bouley’s kitchen. Later, he worked at New York mainstays like Babbo and Eleven Madison Park, and eventually led the kitchen at NoMad. In 2019, he and then-partner Jeff Katz opened Crown Shy at Art Deco gem 70 Pine St. in Lower Manhattan, a fine-dining destination that doubled as a neighborhood restaurant. Crown Shy instantly became one of the most celebrated restaurants downtown, earning rave reviews and a Michelin star. In 2021, James opened a second fine-dining establishment, SAGA, on 70 Pine’s 63rd story, which now has two Michelin stars; its accompanying bar, Overstory, has been ranked one of the best bars in the world. 

Crown Shy, along with SAGA and Overstory, helped put Lower Manhattan’s culinary scene on the map, transforming the area into a lauded food destination. James, a Lower Manhattan resident, was dedicated to the neighborhood, and he cared deeply about downtown’s restaurants. Many remembrances of James make mention of his generosity and mentorship, qualities the Downtown Alliance experienced firsthand in our work with him. 

In summer 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Downtown Alliance launched a virtual food and beverage roundtable to discuss and address how best to help Lower Manhattan’s restaurateurs. James was one of the first people to participate in the roundtable, and did one of our early Dine Around: Cooking at Home demonstrations to feature Crown Shy in January 2021, designed to help raise awareness and funds for downtown restaurants. Not only did he contribute his own talents through his generous participation, but he insisted on sharing the spotlight with his sous chef India Doris, who was featured in a double-bill program, each appearing from their respective quarantine locations. India, pictured with James below, is now executive sous chef at SAGA.

The Downtown Alliance extends its condolences to James’s wife, Kelly, and their two children, Gavin and Avery, as well as to his SAGA Hospitality Group family. We have lost a huge advocate for Lower Manhattan and for the culinary world. He was a smart, creative, kind and generous person, and we will miss him terribly. 

photos: courtesy Crown Shy

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