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James Kent, the chef who was building a restaurant empire, has died at the age of 45

James Kent, the chef who was building a restaurant empire, has died at the age of 45

James Kent, the distinguished chef and successful restaurateur in Manhattan who seemed poised to become a food mogul, died Saturday. He was 45 years old.

And it was his death Announce by Saga Hospitality Group, the holding company for his restaurants Crown Shy and Saga and his cocktail bar Overstory, all in the same building in Manhattan’s Financial District. The statement did not specify the place of his death or the cause.

In 1993, when he was 14 years old and growing up in Greenwich Village and already working in a restaurant, Mr. Kent’s mother had him knock on the door of the building’s newest resident, the celebrity chef David Polley. The young man asked if he could spend some time in Mr. Polley’s kitchen. Mr. Polly said yes. He spent the summer working at Bouley’s, a TriBeCa chef mainstay.

Before long, Mr. Kent was also working at iconic New York City restaurants such as Babbo, Jean-Georges, Eleven Madison Park, and NoMad, where he became Executive Chef.

He opened his own restaurant, Crown Shy, in 2019 with his partner, Jeff Katz, general manager of Del Posto, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan that closed in 2021. “At Crown Shy, the only false move is the name,” a review headline reads. Critics’ Choice” was conducted by Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times. (The name refers to the tendency of tall trees not to allow their upper stories to grow entangled with the branches of their neighbors.)

Mr. Wells wrote that Mr. Kent’s dishes “regularly exceed delivery.” He singled out for praise “an almost absurdly creamy mush of white bean chickpeas under a fiery red splash of melted nduja.” beef tartare with toasted walnuts and toasted rye bread; The oysters are served with “cucumber jelly, diced cucumbers, jalapenos, and delicate purple shiso leaves.”

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The Times restaurant columnist Florence Fabricant agreed, describing Crown Shy’s menu in a 2019 article as “eclectic and innovative.”

Two years later, Kent acquired four more floors in the same building, an Art Deco skyscraper at 70 Pine Street built in 1932.

Crown Shy occupies the ground floor. The 62nd, 63rd, 64th and 66th floors of the building were converted from executive meeting rooms for insurance company AIG, into Saga, Overstory and a private dining room. The space includes 12 terraces “with stunning views in every direction,” Ms. Fabrikant reported in 2021. Today the “Seasonal Tasting Menu” at Saga costs $298 per person.

Crown Shy has been awarded one star by the Michelin Restaurant Guide. The saga got two.

It was fine dining worthy of European traditions, but with American casualness and an embrace of popular culture.

Mr. Kent played Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G. in Crown Shy. He eschewed formal dress codes. With his chef coat, he can often be seen wearing expensive sneakers.

After years of graffiti growing up, he became known as “the chef who is also a very talented graffiti artist,” Bloomberg said. mentioned In 2016. He was commissioned to do artwork for the NoMad Hotel and restaurant technology company Salido.

“I walked into these fine dining restaurants and didn’t feel welcome,” Mr. Kent said Tell Bandit, a running brand and blog. He said he sought Crown Shy to be “the restaurant of our generation.”

It all seems to add up to a successful business formula.

In April, The Times reported that Kent and Saga Hospitality Group leased 3,000 square feet on the ground floor of a former Domino Sugar refinery in Brooklyn to create a bakery and “casual all-day restaurant.”

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The same month, Robb Report described More ambitious plans. Mr. Kent was opening a new 140-seat restaurant on Park Avenue inspired by the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where his grandmother, Sue Mingus, first went on a date with the jazz musician Charles Mingus, who became her husband and whose estate she took an insurance charge until her death in 2022.

Meanwhile, Kent was also planning to create a fast-casual fried chicken sandwich restaurant on the scale of Shake Shack, Robb’s report said. LRMR Ventures, a private investment firm affiliated with LeBron James and his friend and business partner Maverick Carter, has been backing the Saga Hospitality Group expansion.

Investors “believe Kent is a rare, multi-dimensional talent poised to become the next great American restaurateur,” Robb’s report wrote.

“When I walked into 70 Pine seven years ago, I was one person,” Kent said. “It wasn’t like I was Daniel Boulud with a huge team, and I built all the systems – everything – that we needed to operate at this level.”

Jamal James Kent was born in 1979. His mother was born in Rome and his father was born in Tangier. He grew up in Greenwich Village.

In an interview with tea brand Kettl, he said described He grew up poor and said he had to work “as a little kid” in a restaurant owned by his uncle and his uncle’s best friend to earn money. His mother then encouraged him to introduce himself to Mr. Polly.

He studied food service and culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, and participated in the study abroad program at Le Cordon Bleu in London and Paris.

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He grew up in an Islamic family, and when he applied for jobs as a young man, he used his middle name, for fear of Islamophobia. Tell I eat in 2022.

As Mr. Kent became more successful, he was particularly associated with his tenure at Eleven Madison Park, “the equivalent of Harvard for aspiring young chefs,” Pete Wells wrote in 2023.

Saga Hospitality’s announcement of Mr. Kent’s passing listed him as his wife, Kelly Kent, and two children, Gavin and Avery.

Mr. Kent spoke at length about how hard he worked. He said he noticed he looked exhausted in the photos. He once described having a panic attack while attending work. He said running helped him feel more stable.

“Before running, I only had professional goals,” he told Pandit. “I was saying, ‘I want to be the best, learn from the best, and run these amazing restaurants.’ And then I got to the point where, with no personal goals, I was on the floor thinking I was going to die.