A Chef’s Guide to NYC with Crown Shy’s James Kent

Photos by Joel Barhamand

If there’s one person who can whet our appetite for New York’s food scene, it’s Chef James Kent.

Born and raised in downtown Manhattan, Kent started his culinary career at 15-years-old after meeting David Bouley in an elevator and asking for an internship. He’s since gone on to helm the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park, The NoMad, and now his first solo venture, the recently Michelin-starred Crown Shy. We sat down with him to talk about everything from his love for New York’s food scene to the rebirth of FiDi, and how his passion for graffiti art helps shape his signature dishes.

What was your first cooking job in NYC?
I grew up in Greenwich Village and David Bouley lived in my building. At the time, Bouley was the most talked-about restaurant in Manhattan, and the only fine dining restaurant in downtown Manhattan. I cornered Bouley in the elevator one day and asked for a job in the kitchen. It was more like an externship. But I think that counts.

What excites you the most about the New York food scene?
I’ve lived in New York for my whole life, so I’m a nostalgic New York eater. I love the mom-and-pop sandwich shops that have been around for as long as I can remember. I love that even as rents rise and it’s harder to open a restaurant in the city, there are still pockets of ethnic food that feel like they haven’t changed in a century.

You were previously the chef at the Michelin-starred The NoMad. How does the vibe of Madison Square differ from that of FiDi? Do you find that other chefs are talking about the area?
When we opened The NoMad, we were mocked for having named a neighborhood. Broadway at 26th Street was no man’s land. But today the street is lined by salad chains and matcha bars, and the umpteenth hotel is opening in the area. There were tons of people who lived there, but few restaurants that serviced them. FiDi feels sort of similar to NoMad a decade ago. There are tons of towers filled with renters, but fine dining restaurants are only starting to come to the neighborhood. Now that Manhatta, The Fulton, Augustine and Crown Shy are here, people are definitely starting to take notice.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at Crown Shy?
The menu at Crown Shy is meant to be a greatest hits list, but it’s hard not to love the citrus-marinated grilled chicken.

What type of crowd do you find gravitating to the restaurant? What are their initial reactions to the building and the space?
When we opened Crown Shy, we worried that it’d be hard to find. We don’t have much street signage, and you have to walk into a residential building in order to find the front door. So, diners have to come to Crown Shy with intention. They won’t just stumble in. But once you know where to go, you get to walk through a dramatic landmarked red marble lobby, which is an added bonus.

Not only do you work in the neighborhood, but you also call it home. What do you love about living in FiDi?
I love that I’m three blocks from the West Side Highway and I run past the Brooklyn Bridge every day.

You’re also a talented graffiti artist - do you find any synergies between creating street art and creating a dish?
For sure. Graffiti really has informed how I put colors together and how I use negative space. It also taught me how to take risks that have allowed me to push as an adult.

If you could eat dinner with any New Yorker, who would it be?
My grandma.

What does NYC do better than anywhere else?
Is it unfair to say everything?

Your favorite place to…
Spend a quiet morning: My apartment patio
Eat an iconic NYC dish: The Reuben at Katz’s
Get inspired: MoMA
To relax: I go on a run along the river
To take friends when they visit: Wu’s Wonton King
To check out street art in the city:  Bushwick
To eat on your day off:
Breakfast—Black Fox Coffee
Lunch—The Fulton, Joe’s Shanghai, Brooklyn Crab
Dinner—Cote, Kang Ho Dong Baekchong, Ippudo, Olmsted

Check it out
Crown Shy
70 Pine St, New York, NY 10005