John Shields & Karen Urie Shields, Smyth
When you walk into Smyth in Chicago, there’s no getting away from the kitchen. In fact, you’re basically eating in the kitchen, so that’s exactly where I interviewed chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, in earshot (or microphone range, as it were) of two industrious sous chefs whisking things in metal bowls, getting things out of ovens when the timer went off, and generally prepping for the intensive service later that night. That prep time is essential with food as highly constructed, thoughtful, and beautiful as the food is at Smyth, food that is getting all sorts of accolades, including Bon Appetit, the James Beard Foundation, Eater, and you know, just a little organization called Michelin. But the reason I traveled to see them was because Smyth, their passion project of a restaurant, is named after Smyth County, Virginia. This power culinary couple, whose resumes include Charlie Trotter properties and Alinea, left the windy city to head to the Appalachian Mountains for inspiration. They gained cult followings at Town House and Riverstead Inn there, then ended up moving back to Chicago to bring it full circle. The South is of course an inspiration to me, and I love those hollers and shady lanes and cold water creeks of the mountains, so how that gets translated onto a plate I had to see. And what I found was the translation of a palate of place into something altogether new.