We talk about their day to day, The Farm and what influences their culinary journey
John and Karen Urie Shields are the Owners, Executive Chef and Executive Pastry Chef, respectively, of Smyth and The Loyalist, a two Michelin-star fine dining experience and adjoined neighborhood bar in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. For three years now, the two concepts have been lauded for their seasonal approach to cuisine, using—as much as possible—the produce that is grown from their personal garden, The Farm, a quick trip outside of Chicago in Bourbonnais, Illinois. We talked with Karen and John about their day to day, how they got to where they are and what influences their culinary journey at the restaurant.
A view of the open kitchen at Smyth.
The dining experience is had in a relaxed and laidback atmosphere. Is that a similar “air” you try to keep in the kitchen?
Smyth is meant to feel like you're walking into our home. With the open kitchen, it's essential that we work together as a team.
John Shields plating a dish.
How involved are you both with The Farm? Do you visit daily or weekly?
While we receive deliveries from The Farm almost daily, we try to make it out weekly, especially at the height of its season.
The Farm in the winter months.
Do you have an influence on what is grown? What would you like to see grown that isn’t?
We do have some influence, however much of our inspiration comes instead from the reverse—taking the product from The Farm and allowing it to inspire us and create something beautiful, surprising and delicious with it. You can see our seed list online here.
Harvested ears of corn.
What’s the future look like for Smyth & The Loyalist?
We both worked at Charlie Trotter's, which was known for this quote: “if it’s not broken, break it.” Chef Trotter instilled in us an invaluable work ethic, attention to detail, hospitality and a cuisine based around nature—he shaped who we are today. We still abide by that quote and are always evolving the menus and what we're doing at Smyth and The Loyalist.
Bags of harvested items from The Farm.
On your days off, what does that look like?
A lot of our time off is spent at The Farm, but we love to go to the beach as a family too with our two young girls. For a date night, we like to go to Le Bouchon because it’s where we had one of our first dates together.
The Shields, family and friends eating outside.
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
Product from The Farm at the height of its ‘perfection’ is our greatest culinary inspiration.
John and Karen Urie Shields.
If you’re in Chicago, be sure to make a reservation for one of their coursed dining experiences at Smyth or to grab a few drinks at The Loyalist. You can get in touch with them through their website at smythandtheloyalist.com
Photography courtesy of Smyth + The Loyalist