Santa Barbara’s culinary world woke up to sad news Saturday morning, learning that Chef James Sly had passed away due to complications after a stroke.
Anyone who ever dined at the eponymous restaurant he operated with his wife, Annie, in Carpinteria from 2008 to 2018 had to sense the end of an era of classic, delicious dining. Many restaurant owners and hospitality professionals are sharing memories.
“He was a wonderful friend, an amazing chef, mentor, and restaurateur who will always have my highest respect,” said Frank Ostini of the Hitching Post 2 and Hitching Post Wines. “James was a great supporter of local wines, always giving me guidance and instilling confidence in my style, as both a chef and winemaker. The Santa Barbara culinary scene lost one of its best.”
As Ostini makes clear, Sly was more than just a talented chef — he was a friend and teacher. He also was a fine writer and a lover of language; his college major at Cal State Fullerton was linguistics. One only has to recall the simple wit of Sly’s menu (“those skinny onion rings”), or his lesser known to the foodie world side career as an automotive journalist, to realize he was skilled in all sorts of making.
Before Sly’s James was founding chef at Lucky’s in Montecito; before that chef at the El Encanto. That’s quite a trio of Santa Barbara institutions. Perhaps the key line in his bio, which one can still read on the existing Sly’s website (www.slysonline.com), is this: “James’s training is strictly classical; his attitude 100% California.”
And one hundred percent of Santa Barbara will miss him.