John B. Shields began his culinary training in the St. Louis area, where he attended school and worked in local restaurants. Shields soon moved to Chicago where he served as sous chef for two years at world-renowned Charlie Trotter’s. In 2005, he left Trotter’s to help open Alinea under the direction of chef Grant Achatz. During his two years there as sous chef, Alinea grew from an exciting upstart to one of the best restaurants in the world. After leaving Alinea in 2008, John and his soon-to-be wife Karen Urie turned down an offer to lead the opening of a Charlie Trotter restaurant in Las Vegas and instead took a bold chance on an opportunity to open a restaurant in the countryside of Southwestern Virginia.
The husband-and-wife chefs were given carte blanche to re-imagine the then-unknown Town House restaurant. There, John and Karen rebuilt the concept as a modern exploration of imaginative flavor and visual compositions that utilized the wide array of seasonal, locally grown and foraged ingredients. In June of 2009, The New York Times published a glowing article about Town House, which was instrumental in vaulting the couple to the top tier of chefs and restaurants in the United States. The growing public interest in the food at Town House led to John being named a 2010 “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine as well as a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist in 2011.
After four successful years at Town House and Riverstead Inn, the couple returned to Chicago with their two daughters to open Smyth + The Loyalist. The West Loop dual-concept restaurant—Smyth features innovative, seasonally driven multi-course menus, while The Loyalist downstairs is an innovative lounge with one of the city’s best burgers—quickly received widespread acclaim, including 4 stars from the Chicago Tribune and a ‘Best New Restaurant’ nod from Chicago magazine. After only opening for a few months, Smyth received its first Michelin star, and in 2017, Smyth was elevated to two Michelin stars.