Chef James Sly Dies at 67

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Chef James Sly Dies at 67
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Chef James Sly and his wife Annie (Photo: Sly's)

By edhat staff

Chef James Sly of Sly's Restaurant in Carpinteria passed away at the age of 67 on Saturday.

Sly suffered a stroke and passed two days later from complications. A memorial is planned on Friday at 10:00 a.m. at the Carpinteria Cemetary (more information below).

As a talented and respected Chef with over 50 years of experience, Sly opened Sly's Restaurant in the brick building on the corner of Linden Ave and 7th Street in 2008. The restaurant coupled fine dining with a casual lounge and featured a variety of steak and seafood options. He ran the restaurant for ten years with his wife Annie before closing it down in 2018 to retire. 

James and Annie outside Sly's Restaurant in Carpinteria (Photo: Sly's)

Sly's culinary training is strictly classical while his attitude 100% California, according to Sly's Restaurant. He had formal training in Europe and New York while also spending several years working in private homes before coming to Santa Barbara, where he spent four years as Chef for the El Encanto Hotel. 

Sly created Lucky’s in Montecito, and built it into a premiere steak house during its first seven years before departing in June of 2007.

Carpinteria locals, Santa Barbara chefs, and more shared their memories of Sly and his food. A memorial date information has yet to be released.

Santa Barbara's first Share Our Strength event 29 years ago featuring young local chefs. From left to right: Michael Hutchings, James Sly, John Downey, Norbert Schultz, Patrick Le Sec, & Tim (photo: James Sly / Facebook)

James Sly Obituary

Chef and “Capitán” James Sly passed away at Serenity House on Aug. 23, 2019, following a brief illness, with Annie, his wife of 33 years, by his side.

He is also survived by his sister, Catherine Aiken, and nieces and nephews, Casey, Brian, Adam, Stefanie, and Josh.

Born and raised in Fullerton, California, he held a B.A. in linguistics from California State University, Fullerton. He first cooked at Boy Scout campouts (and was proud of baking pineapple upside-down cake on a campfire) and obtained the rank of Eagle Scout.  

He worked at restaurant chains, then began an apprenticeship at Chez Cary, an “old school” haute cuisine restaurant in Orange County, where he met fellow apprentice Michael Hutchings. The chefs have remained colleagues and friends for more than 45 years.

James began his formal training at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and with Michel Guerard at Regine’s in both Paris and New York.

He refined his craft at the Summer House in Nantucket; at 1789 Restaurant and the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC; and at the Desert Princess Hotel and Grand Champions Resort, both in Palm Springs. James also spent several years in private homes, cooking for, among others, Princess Sham Pahlavi, the sister of the Shah of Iran.

In 1984, Michael asked James to cook at an American Institute of Wine & Food Festival at the Music Academy of the West, where James met Annie. The pair married at City Hall in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 30, 1985, the afternoon before 1789 Restaurant’s gala reopening.

The Slys returned to Santa Barbara in 1989 when James became chef at the El Encanto Hotel, and the two moved to Carpinteria. He became the founding chef and general manager of Lucky’s in Montecito in 1999.

On 8/8/08, Annie and James opened Sly’s in Carpinteria, which offered fine dining with a traditional approach. The walls were hung with vintage road racing photographs by Jesse Alexander who, with wife Nancy, were also dear friends. After a successful 10-year run, they closed Sly’s last year.

James loved to travel and was fluent in French and Spanish, and conversant in Italian and German. He had a lifelong love affair with Volkswagen cars, and wrote for “VW & Porsche” and “European Car” from the 1970s until shortly before his death.

Passionate about Apple computers, he helped many a friend navigate their complexities.

His generosity, wit, and humility are legendary, as were his silver handlebar moustache and beard, and warm, welcoming smile. James put other people first, helping his staff, friends, and causes he believed in.

He donated his services to many local charities, and received by a “Giraffe Award” from Planned Parenthood for “sticking his neck out.”

James and Annie were best friends, and he wanted her to be part of whatever he was doing. Though many spouses cannot work together, they did at Sly’s, happily. They could be sighted on bike rides in Carpinteria, wearing headsets so they could talk with each other.

At the bottom of every menu, he credited “James Sly & Brigade.” He believed in sharing the credit as much as he loved to share his knowledge and expertise with his staff, many of whom stayed with him for years.

They called him “Capitán,” an honor higher than “Chef,” as James Sly taught them not only how to cook, but how to live.

A memorial is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30, at 10 a.m. at Carpinteria Cemetery, followed by a celebration of his life at noon at the Carpinteria Arts Center.

In lieu of flowers, please donate in his memory to Planned Parenthood, Serenity House, the Carpinteria Arts Center, or Girls Inc. of Carpinteria.

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biguglystick Aug 30, 2019 10:09 AM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

I never got to go to Sly's in Carp, despite many reccomendations by friends. How sad! I missed out.

kkinsb Aug 28, 2019 10:11 PM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

Actually Sly's closed because the building was SOLD and the new owner of the building owns a restaurant in LA and wanted to open his own restaurant in Carpinteria as well.

Mo-leta Aug 27, 2019 11:17 PM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

Sly, I had some great times working catering gigs for you and Michael Hutchings when I first arrived in S.B. You made some magic moments in culinary history here. RIP my friend - you'll be hanging out with Julia Childs no doubt. Talking food. Cheers!

a-1582073869 Aug 27, 2019 03:05 PM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

Very sad, such a good person and community supporter! Please RIP Chef Sly, you were like no other.

a-1582073869 Aug 27, 2019 11:14 AM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

So sorry to hear this news. Such a brilliant chef and restaurateur leaves us way too young. Condolences to his family and friends.

sbres Aug 27, 2019 10:18 AM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

RIP Sly - we had many a fantastic meal both at El Encanto and Sly's in Carpinteria. We were so sad when Sly's closed but were hoping Sly and Annie could enjoy a well deserved retirement. Our heart goes out to Annie and the rest of the family.

Flicka Aug 27, 2019 10:02 AM
Chef James Sly Dies at 67

Very sad, too young to go. RIP Mr. Sly. The Sly's in Carpinteria closed because the building owners wanted it back to open their own restaurant.

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