Food is a lit­eral labour of love for John and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth+loy­al­ist. They share with Destin Tay on the ins and outs of bal­anc­ing two stars, two restau­rants and two kids.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

John and Karen Urie Shields

Set­tling down with fam­ily can of­ten be a bane to chefs pur­su­ing high-fly­ing ca­reers, but for hus­band-and-wife power cou­ple John and Karen Urie Shields, it’s the back­bone of their suc­cess. The pair opened the dual con­cept Smyth+loy­al­ist, a com­bi­na­tion of fine-din­ing restau­rant (Smyth) and ca­sual gas­tro-bar (The Loy­al­ist) in 2016, fresh off the birth of their sec­ond child. Four years and two Miche­lin stars later, they haven’t looked back since.

The pair first met when they were work­ing to­gether at the leg­endary Char­lie Trot­ter’s town­house restau­rant, where John was sous chef and Karen was head pas­try chef. The two got closer and even­tu­ally fell in love when they were tasked by Trot­ter to helm his new ven­ture in Las Ve­gas, but they left that deal in or­der to pur­sue some­thing they could call their own.

And what ex­actly is the se­cret in­gre­di­ent to their suc­cess­ful restau­rant busi­ness and grow­ing fam­ily? The Shields ar­gue that it’s the corner­stone of all re­la­tion­ships: com­pro­mise and mu­tual re­spect. The pair have lever­aged on their in­di­vid­ual strengths (John han­dles ma­jor­ity of the culi­nary de­ci­sions while Karen han­dles the busi­ness as­pects) in or­der to fo­cus their ef­forts more ef­fi­ciently, al­low­ing them time to spend with the kids when out of the kitchen.

It’s pretty am­bi­tious to open a dual con­cept restau­rant as your first busi­ness. What led the both of you to this de­ci­sion? Karen: The Loy­al­ist came to be as we wanted to present Smyth’s culi­nary phi­los­o­phy in a more re­laxed set­ting. It made sense fi­nan­cially as well. We wouldn’t have to worry too much about hav­ing to cram Smyth with over 100 cov­ers a night, as The Loy­al­ist’s more ca­sual ap­proach al­lowed for higher cus­tomer turnover and would act as ex­tra rev­enue.

John: We were also very con­cerned with the iden­tity of the spa­ces, and we fig­ured that The Loy­al­ist would be a great love let­ter to the city of Chicago. As a very neigh­bour­hood-driven city with a high Mid-west, blue-col­lar work­ing pop­u­la­tion, the at­mos­phere of The Loy­al­ist would be more invit­ing to the gen­eral pub­lic.

How has your time at Char­lie Trot­ter’s in­flu­enced your menus at Smyth+loy­al­ist?

Our work with Trot­ter pretty much opened our eyes; back in 2007 the sus­tain­able and sea­sonal move­ment was fledg­ling, and Trot­ter’s ap­proach to food was largely un­ex­plored ter­ri­tory. We kept those lessons to heart when we moved to Smyth County, Vir­ginia, and we had a blast dis­cov­er­ing the na­tive pro­duce that was avail­able. We even had wild as­para­gus grow­ing in our drive­way. As such we’ve ded­i­cated most of our menu to lo­cal, sea­sonal pro­duce that we get from The Farm, a 20-acre prop­erty in Bour­bon­nais that sup­plies us ex­clu­sively. Re­becca and Alan Pap­ineau, the re­tired cou­ple who run the farm, have sup­plied us with over 200 va­ri­eties of herbs, veg­eta­bles and fruit; we have an al­most sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship. They feed our cre­ativ­ity with ex­cit­ing pro­duce and we feed their love of grow­ing.

How does be­ing a cou­ple help dur­ing the menu ideation process? John: It’s won­der­ful as we are quite sim­i­lar in the way we ap­proach food. We bounce ideas off each other and are both very in­volved with menu cre­ation. For in­stance the transition of flavours from savoury to sweet in our tast­ing menus; we dis­cuss the in­ter­sec­tion of flavours so that guests can have a more seam­less din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Karen: We gather in­spi­ra­tion from dif­fer­ent meth­ods as well. John is very ac­tive on so­cial me­dia and keeps up to date on cur­rent in­dus­try trends and tech­niques, while I tend to fo­cus more on the nat­u­ral side of things.

What’s a dish that was jointly cre­ated by the both of you? John: Our egg yolk dessert. It was cre­ated when we were just start­ing the restau­rant. We were just in­tro­duced to the Pap­ineaus, and they gave us some prod­ucts that they had on hand, which in­cluded eggs and fer­mented black rasp­ber­ries.

Karen: There’s much more to that story. Back when I was the only pas­try chef at Trot­ter’s, I would al­ways re­mind the savoury chefs help­ing me to sep­a­rate egg yolks and sugar when col­lect­ing mise en place for a recipe. John was the only one who for­got. The dish was in­spired by this ac­ci­dent; we cure the yolk for 24 hours un­til it’s cooked about 50 per­cent through, but still soft and cus­tardy. We serve that on yo­ghurt meringue ‘whites’ with a mo­lasses-flavoured syrup.

How do the two of you bal­ance be­ing chefs and par­ents?

We run our home like our kitchen. We have al­ways be­lieved that struc­ture and or­gan­i­sa­tion are the key to suc­cess, and we’ve got­ten our daugh­ters used to that sys­tem. Beds are made ev­ery day, dishes are cleaned ev­ery night, and the dish­washer is emp­tied each morn­ing. They’ve got school in the day, and we di­vide and con­quer our tasks at the restau­rant dur­ing that time, so that we can spend more time with them at night.

Would you ever con­sider open­ing your own restau­rants, sep­a­rate from each other?

Never. We re­ally en­joy work­ing with each other, and as cliché as it sounds, we com­plete each other. The more time we spend to­gether cook­ing and ideat­ing, the more we get in­spired by each other’s cre­ativ­ity. Cre­ativ­ity feeds our mar­riage and us in­di­vid­u­ally.

Cream of quince, ap­ple and dried meringue Broiled oys­ter with ba­con, sea let­tuce and hol­landaise

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