The Culinary Community Remembers Chef James Kent

Kent's colleagues honor his creativity, leadership, and mentorship.

<p>Food & Wine / Getty Images</p>

Food & Wine / Getty Images

On Saturday, June 15, the news of chef James Kent’s passing shook the culinary community. Those gathered at the 2024 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, turned their attention to Kent’s family and incredible impact on the industry over the last 30 years.

Kent’s curiosity about kitchens emerged at 14 years old when David Bouley moved into his Greenwich Village building. According to Culinary Agents, Kent’s mom encouraged him to knock on the iconic chef’s door for an opportunity to learn from him. In 1993, Kent’s aspiration led to an apprenticeship at the original Bouley, eventually evolving into a formal culinary education at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1997, with a summer at Le Cordon Bleu in London and Paris in 2001.

Related: Chefs Remember David Bouley’s Influence on the Food World

Upon graduating culinary school, Kent returned to New York City, landing a tournant position at Babbo shortly after it won the 1999 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. He went on to work the line at Jean-Georges, the 1998 James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant, and in 2006, he joined Gordon Ramsay’s team at the London in Midtown as junior sous chef. The restaurant would earn two Michelin stars the following year.

Kent most notably joined Eleven Madison Park in 2007, advancing from line cook to sous chef to chef de cuisine as the landmark restaurant earned three Michelin stars. In the midst of working in one of the world’s most prominent kitchens, Kent competed internationally at the 2011 Bocuse d’Or, placing No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 10 in the world.

He was promoted to executive chef at sister restaurant The NoMad, where Kent was nominated for the 2016 James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York. In 2018, he opened his first solo venture, Crown Shy in downtown Manhattan, as partner and executive chef. After two years of success with the concept, Kent opened his tasting menu restaurant, Saga, and cocktail bar, Overstory at the top of the same landmark building at 70 Pine Street.

Kent’s Saga Restaurant Group contributes to a formidable legacy. Crown Shy has one Michelin star, Saga has two, and Overstory is No. 17 among the World’s 50 Best Bars, and No. 3 in North America. But nothing compares to the 45-year-old husband and father of two's legacy with his family, team, and the industry community.

“​​I have known James since his early years at EMP and was always so proud of his evolution, talent, ambition, determination and accomplishments,” wrote chef Daniel Boulud on Instagram. “His artistic creativity, energy and generosity was an inspiration to his team and to us all.”

The longtime friends collaborated on a cooking demo for Kitchen Rodeo to support the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) and ROAR (Restaurants Organizing Advocating Rebuilding) during the pandemic. Kent ran the 2021 New York City Marathon in support of ROAR and started the Crown Shy Run Club for his team.

“He was my parter in crime. He changed my life and I’ll be forever grateful,” wrote Saga executive pastry chef Renata Ameni on Instagram. “He’d always introduce me to people as his dear friend, never as his pastry chef.”

Richard Lee, executive chef at two-Michelin-starred Saison in San Francisco, paid tribute to the chef he worked under at Eleven Madison Park. “Man did I look up to the kind of chef and person you were,” he wrote on Instagram. “You had a confidence that was infectious. You brought out the best in everyone you came across. You were always so happy to see someone come up! You were the best of us. In an industry that’s tough where you had every opportunity to be a hard ass, you found a way to find a beautiful balance of pushing but also bringing along. You’re the kind of leader and man I will always strive to be.”

“You will stay in my heart as always as an amazing man, great chef and friend who has a warm heart,” wrote 2023 F&W Best New Chef Eunji Lee of Lysée. “Will remember you and what you’ve brought to this industry forever.”

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.