Saga, which opened last August, is one of New York’s most creative fine dining restaurants. Sitting on the 63rd floor of a skyscraper in the city’s Financial District, chef James Kent and his team put together a seven-course tasting menu that includes a citrus salad, black bass, porcini custard, and a Moroccan tagine.
That last dish is quite personal to Kent, whose full name is Jamal James Kent. He views the dish as a way for him to connect with his Moroccan heritage through his food.
“The first time I ever used James, I put ‘J. James Kent’ on my resume. It was the summer after 9/11, New York was this crazy place,” says Kent. “I just wanted to get a job and I thought that I would have issues.”
Kent grew up in an Islamic household, with his Arabic-speaking father growing up in Tangiers, and feels as if he’s been hiding behind his first name his whole life.
“I have the ability to tell authentic stories that are my own. I don’t need to hide behind things anymore, I try not to,” says Kent. “And that means cooking food that’s important to me.”
For the last course of the meal, he wants to represent his father’s culture.
The tagine is served using braised short ribs that are made in a kitchen at Crown Shy, Kent’s first restaurant in the same building as Saga.
At Crown Shy, the rib is served as a medium roasted cut, but at Saga, it’s treated as a secondary cut for the entree. From the grill, the ribs are put in plastic bags and placed into a water bath for 48 hours.
The meat may appear overcooked when it’s removed from the bath, but when Kent cuts it open, it reveals a medium-cooked interior. The meat is portioned for Crown Shy and some will get served at Saga.
The tagine is served with m’semen bread, a traditional Moroccan flatbread, braised short rib, and pressed yogurt with black truffle puree.
“I feel like when that hits the table, you can’t not be happy,” says Kent.